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The signs of fall are everywhere: The buttery light of summer has shifted to the haunting gold of autumn, most apparent in late afternoon.

There’s a deep chill in the early morning air, and if you find yourself pulling your comforter up around your neck or adding an extra blanket, you are not alone.

Sunflowers are tilting their heavy heads downward, tomatoes are turning into sauce in the fields, and there’s a sense of urgency: Enjoy the last of the harvest now, before it vanishes.

There’s time for a few more Caprese salads, another BLT or two, fresh salsa, fried Padrons, grilled zucchini and such, but it won’t be long now until we must turn our attention to the foods of fall and winter.

It’s not a bad thing, saying goodbye to the foods of summer and welcoming the new season. Hearty soups and stews, winter squash curries, posole, and before too long, turkey await us.

Right now we can find fresh shell beans at our farmers markets, and they are a special treat that vanishes fairly quickly. One of the season’s singular pleasures is to sit outside in the golden afternoon light with a mound of shell beans at your side. Watch the light as you strip the beans out of their pods; if you can do this on your front porch, with a glass of something good to drink alongside, all the better.

Soon, those fresh shell beans, which cook up more quickly than dried beans, will be gone, too. When they are, you can still find local beans from a number of farmers at your local farmers market.

When you can’t, we’ve got one of the best producers around next door, in Napa County, home of Rancho Gordo.

This company is a purveyor of extraordinary heirloom beans and a number of other New World products, including hominy, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, herbs, spices, chiles, hot sauces and more. (For more information, go to ranchogordo.com.)

If you typically buy canned beans, you might not realize how simple it is to prepare fresh or dried beans from scratch. The best way to do this successfully is to begin with really good beans, either grown locally or purchased from Rancho Gordo.

Once you have the beans, you just need liquid and heat to make them edible and even delicious, though most people, myself included, believe they must be salted after cooking for their flavors to blossom.

The very best beans need nothing more, though you can add all manner of flavorings, from garlic and fresh or dried chiles to homemade sofrito, onions, celery, carrots, stock, meaty bones, meat, and herbs, such as bay leaves and thyme sprigs.

Once cooked, the beans can be served neat, over rice, in soups, and, if drained, in tacos, tostadas, and burritos.

When you make beans at home from scratch, it is always a good idea to prepare more than you’ll eat at a single meal. They improve in flavor overnight and you can use them to make a great breakfast or lunch.

For recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, including basic recipes for both fresh and dried shell beans, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.


This dish borrows its technique from shakshuka, a delicious Middle Eastern dish in which eggs are baked or poached in a spicy tomato sauce. Here, the beans replace the sauce.

Eggs Poached in Beans, with Tortillas & Padrons

Serves 2, easily doubled

3 cups cooked beans, with plenty of liquid, hot

2 large or jumbo farm eggs

2 teaspoons olive oil

— Generous handful of padron chiles

— Kosher salt or Maldon salt

— Bottled hot sauce of choice

— Hot corn tortillas or toasted hearth bread

Preheat a toaster oven or traditional oven to 300 degrees.

Rinse two ovenproof dishes, such as small ramekins or brams (Egyptian earthenware containers), in hot water, leaving the water in place for a couple of minutes to heat the containers.

Divide the hot beans between the containers and break an egg into the center of both. Set in the oven, increase the heat to 400 degrees, and cook until the white of the eggs is completely set, about 7 to 8 minutes or a bit longer.

Meanwhile, pour the olive oil into a small sauté pan set over medium high heat, add the padrons and fry until they swell up a bit and are charred on the outside. Remove from the heat.

Carefully remove the ramekins from the stove and set on individual pot holders or other protective material. Scatter padrons on top, season with salt, and enjoy right away, with tortillas or toast and hot sauce alongside.


This is my version of a Puerto Rican classic, beans and rice. What distinguishes it from many versions is the use of a flavorful sofrito and the inclusion of green olives and potatoes. Red beans and pink beans are the most common beans used in the traditional versions of this dish but you should use whatever bean you like.

Puerto Rican-Style Beans & Rice

Serves 6 to 8

1 tablespoon lard or peanut oil

3-4 tablespoons sofrito (see recipe, below)

3-4 cups fresh shell beans

1 bay leaf

8 ounces tomato sauce, homemade or commercial

2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick half rounds

1 cup pitted green olives

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

— Steamed white rice

1 firm-ripe avocado, cut in diagonal slices

2 medium ripe tomatoes, cut into small dice

Put the lard or oil into a large saucepan or other heavy pot set over medium heat, add the sofrito, and sauté for about 2 minutes, until it mixture begins to give off its aromas. Add the beans, bay leaf, and tomato sauce, along with 4 cups of water.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently until the beans are tender, about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on variety and age.

When the beans are tender but not mushy, add the potatoes and olives and simmer gently until the potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Cover and let rest at least 20 minutes before serving.

To serve, scoop rice into soup bowls and ladle beans on top or alongside. Enjoy right away, with the avocado and tomatoes alongside for guests to use as toppings.


To make this dish with dried beans, use 1 pound (your choice of variety) and soak them overnight. Drain and rinse the beans, put them into a saucepan or bean pot, add the bay leaf, and cover with water by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the beans are almost tender. Pour the lard or oil into a small sauté pan set over medium heat and add the sofrito; cook for about 2 minutes and then tip into the pot with the beans. Add the tomato sauce, potatoes, and olives and cook until the potatoes are tender. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat, cover, and let rest at least 20 minutes before serving.

Instead of water, use hamhock stock. Reserve the meat from the stock, pull it off the bones, and stir it into the beans along with the potatoes and olives.

Use sweet potatoes instead of potatoes and cook as directed.


Sofrito is a basic flavoring considered essential for countless dishes in Portugal, Spain, Puerto Rico, Latin America and South America. In Italy, soffritto, which is typically simpler, is used in risotto. The French parallel is mirepoix. It is easy to make at home and can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or two or frozen for several weeks.

You can even find commercial versions in certain stores, though it is always better when made at home. If you don’t want a smoky flourish in your sofrito, omit the smoked paprika.


Makes about 3/4 cup

1/8 cup lard or peanut oil

10 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

1 small red onion

1 large bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into small dice

1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves, stems, and cleaned roots

1 teaspoon each: mild Spanish paprika, smoked Spanish paprika and hot Spanish paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Heat the oil in a small sauté pan set over low heat. Add the garlic, scallions, paprika, cumin, oregano, cilantro, red pepper flakes, and salt and cook, stirring constantly for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is fragrant and the scallions are limp.

If it seems too thick, carefully thin with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water. Transfer to a small bowl.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including The Good Cook’s Book of Tomatoes. Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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