Borlotti or Cranberry Beans are both striking in appearance and delicious to eat. The ideal bean to use in a classic pasta e fagiole (pasta and bean soup), it is meatier than other beans, possess a somewhat nutty flavor and have a creamy texture. Often purchased dried, this bean is excellent in soups and stews. At the markets in Italy, I was thrilled to find so many stalls selling spectacular fresh borlotti beans still in their podsâ€¦talk about fresh! Removed from their stunning striated cream and maroon pods, the beans themselves are often cream colored with red/burgundy or black markings. It seems that the fresh beans freeze well and my wifeâ€™s aunt often takes home several containers of fresh borlotti that she then stores in her freezer back in Manilaâ€¦ She makes a pretty mean pasta e fagiole that rivals some of the versions we ate in Italy…the best ones were creamy and your spoon could practically stand by itself in the soup!
Often you find that white beans readily available in the local Manila supermarkets are used as a substitute for borlotti in many Italian recipesâ€¦while I understand the practical side to that substitution, try to get some borlotti the next time around. The dried beans last a long time and just need to be soaked in water overnight or up to 12 hours before using. If you are lucky enough to have fresh beans, then you donâ€™t need to soak them at all. The fresh beans cook fairly quickly and will get too soft if overdone. Once cooked, the beans turn white or tan/pink, but you will taste the difference from regular white beans. Besides borlotti in soup, they are also great stewed for a long time with pancetta or bacon, onions and tomatoes, for a very upscale version of pork and beans! They also do well in cold bean salads. Delicious!