Sarah Carey spills the beans on choosing, storing, and cooking this late summer delicacy.

By Victoria Spencer
August 03, 2020
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colorful shelled beans on green surface
Credit: Christopher Testani

Looking for ways to become a more confident cook at home? Our food editors are here to help. Each week, we shine a spotlight on the exciting things happening in the Martha Stewart test kitchen. Our editors will share their best cooking tips, favorite products, new ideas, and more in our weekly series, Out of the Kitchen.

Sarah Carey, our editorial director of food, scoops up shelling beans by the basketful when she spots them at the farmers' market in the late summer and early fall. Unlike green beans, we don't eat the pod of shelling beans—it's the beans themselves that are the prize. The gems inside are sweeter and creamier than their canned bean counterparts, and they're quicker to prepare than dried beans since they don't need to be soaked first. Here are some varieties to seek at the market, plus what to look for when selecting fresh shelling beans and how to store them. Sarah also shares her method for cooking shelling beans and some favorite recipes for using them.

What to Look for When Buying Shelling Beans

Pods range in color depending on the type of bean, as you can see from the picture above. They may be mottled pink (cranberry, which known as borlotti in Italy) or pale yellow-brown (Jacob's cattle). The beans inside also range in color and size from small black turtle beans to plump black-and-white calypso beans and long dark-red kidney beans (familiar to most of us as canned beans). No matter which variety of shelling bean you are purchasing, look for firm, plump-feeling pods with no brown spots or soft or slimy patches.

How to Store Shelling Beans

Refrigerate them, whole and unwashed, in a paper bag for up to five days.

How to Cook Shelling Beans

Gently pull the pods apart at the seam, then use your finger to release the beans. To cook, cover beans with two inches of salted water in a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, 25 to 40 minutes, depending on size and variety. Let cool, then refrigerate in the cooking liquid for up to three days, or drain and use in any recipe that calls for dried or canned beans.

Sarah's Favorite Recipes Starring Shell Beans

There are an endless number of ways to use cooked shelling beans. Sure, you could turn them into a bean dip, but rather than process them into a creamy mass, Sarah likes to let them shine in salads, brothy soups, and pasta with fresh herbs—this is how you get to enjoy their colors and textures. Feel free to use whatever shelling beans you find at the market in any of these recipes.

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Credit: NGOC MINH NGO

Green Bean, Shell Bean, and Sweet Onion Fattoush

Shelling beans are sometimes combined with green beans, as in this riff on the famous Lebanese Fattoush salad. Sarah loves this recipe for the way it "uses lots of bumper crop vegetables."

cranberry bean salad with butternut squash and broccoli rabe

Cranberry Bean Salad with Butternut Squash and Broccoli Rabe

Not what most people think of as a salad, this hearty fall dish combines creamy cranberry beans with sweet thin slices of sautéed butternut squash, bacon, and broccoli rabe and is served warm.

fusilli with shell beans and sausage

Fusilli with Shell Beans and Sausage

A fresh early fall pasta with two types of shelling bean and sweet Italian sausage. If you can't find (or haven't grown) the tongue of fire and pink half-runner beans the recipe calls for, use the shelling beans you have, it will still be delicious.

pasta e fagioli with borlotti beans
Credit: Gabriela Herman

Pasta e Fagioli with Borlotti Beans

An Italian classic, this comforting soup is made with beans and pasta but what beans and what pasta depends on which recipe, from which region or town or you're making. Marcella Hazan declared borlotti beans the classic and cooks use fresh shelled borlotti when they are in season, then dried borlotti when they make this favorite the rest of the year.

Food Styling by Sarah Carey; prop styling by Tanya Graff.

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