Shell beans (what southerners call field peas) are legumes that are popped out of their pods to be cooked fresh, not dried. I love beans of all kinds and really enjoy the variety offered at my local farmers market. Their names can be confusing, as similar types are variously called “horticultural” beans or cranberry beans or borlotto beans or calypso beans.

They have become something of an endangered species in the mainstream market but lately have been discovered by chefs, who prize them partly because of their rarity and seasonality (in Maine, mid- to late summer trough early fall), but also for their gentle texture and sweet, herbaceous flavor.

To prepare shell beans, start with the underside of the pod and break in with a thumbnail, then pop out the beans and simmer in salted water for 25 to 45 minutes, depending on their age and variety, until tender. They can be simply dressed with lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil, turned in a special succotash or cooked into this main-course Mediterranean-style soup topped with crunchy crostini.

Late Summer Shell Bean Soup

This recipe is written to serve two, but you can double the recipe if you have more guests to feed. Gather a couple of people and sit on the porch for a sociable bean-shelling session.

2 servings

1 pound shell beans in their pods

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 slices peasant bread

1 tablespoon torn fresh sage leaves, plus additional for finish

2 to 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1¾ cups (1 14.5-ounce can) chicken broth

1 cup seeded diced tomatoes

4 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Freshly ground black pepper


Shell the beans. You should have about 1¼ cups.

In a large saucepan or deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Tear or cut bread into rough 1-inch pieces, add to oil along with the torn sage and cook over medium heat, stirring once or twice, until toasted and browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Set the crostini aside; do not wash the saucepan.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to pot. Add the garlic and cook over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the broth and shelled beans, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cook, covered, until beans are tender, 25 to 45 minutes, depending on size and age. Add tomatoes and simmer for 5 more minutes. (The soup may be made ahead to this point.)

Reheat gently, if necessary. Stir in parsley and extra sage, add a grinding of black pepper, and taste for salt, adding if necessary. Serve in shallow bowls with crostini floated on top.

Fresh Shell Bean Succotash

Succotash is an old New England Native American dish that employed corn and beans, a complete protein, New World-style. This recipe is quite adaptable: Use any herb you like, add diced red bell pepper for color; or replace the onion with leek, garlic or scallions.

3 to 4 servings

1 pound shell beans in their pods

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 cup heavy cream

¼ cup white wine

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or other herb

1½ cups fresh corn kernels (from 2 to 3 ears)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Shell beans. You should have about 1¼ cups. In a saucepan, combine beans, onion, cream, wine and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until beans are tender, 25 to 45 minutes, depending on size, type and age.

Stir in corn and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Most of the cream should be absorbed. If the mixture is too dry, add a bit of water; if it’s too liquid, simmer uncovered to reduce the sauce to a thick consistency.

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Chowderland: Hearty Soups & Stews with Sides and Salads to Match.” She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at:

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