cranberry-bean-1

Photo Courtesy of Cooking Books

For some women, this happens with handbags. For me, it’s usually food related. This time, however, it wasn’t a white truffle or a wildly expensive piece of imported cheese that had me drooling, but a block of wood. A gorgeously carved and perfectly polished block of wood. Or, as its tag on the table in the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market would have it, a “reclaimed mahogany knife block.” Beneath those words were a few numbers, numbers I briefly hoped referred to its weight in milligrams, or the year AD in which it was discovered. Anything but the absolutely astronomical, totally absurd price!

I had to take a step back. I already own a perfectly good knife block, and it sits on my counter top and holds my knives, as any good knife block does. There was no universe in which I needed this knife block. But, oh did I want it. I could picture it in mia cucina, picture myself cooking next to it. My kitchen, my apartment, perhaps even my life would be a little bit closer to complete. I sighed, forced myself to take a business card, and then forced myself to walk away.

Fifteen blocks later, sitting with a glass of Pino Noir and pretzels for dunking into a cheddar fondue at cheese heaven Casellula, I started to think about the value of beautiful things. Aesthetics are important. We eat with our eyes first. A lot of what we choose, from the boots we buy to the people we fuck is based on looks. In other words, people really like pretty things. And, especially for those of us who live in Manhattan, the beautiful objects that catch our eyes are often prohibitively expensive. In fact, the only place where that’s almost never the case is the Union Square Farmers’ Market, the land of beautiful, bountiful produce and relative cheapness.

This week, on my usual jaunt, the object of gaze was a bean. A ridiculously gorgeous bean. Now, the bean is not exactly what most people would call a sexy vegetable. In fact, familiar to most people as something that comes canned or refried, beans often get a bad rap. However, I believe this would change if more Americans ventured out to their local markets and got a look at the vast variety of beans that are out there. From green, yellow and purple string beans to favas and kidneys, beans come in a rainbow of sizes and colors. Added to which, in these past few weeks, is – I believe – the most beautiful member of the bean family, and one of my very favorites…the cranberry bean.

Often seen under their Italian moniker, Borlotti, cranberry beans look like regular pinto beans fleeing a crime scene, flecked, as they are, with a beautiful cranberry red. Bought fresh, they need just about fifteen minutes in a boiling pot of water or stock to be tender, and then will have a nutty, creamy flavor that is unforgettable. But – and as a cook, I say this hesitatingly – who really buys them for their flavor?

More than anything else, these beans are eye-catchingly beautiful. So much so, that if you see them, you’ll just want to buy them, even if you don’t a recipe or a dinner date in mind. They’ll look wonderful on a giant, white plate tossed with pasta or as the stand-out member of a salad, but could also be totally gorg if you just buy them and leave them in a bowl on your coffee table. Which, at about five bucks a pound, make them one of Manhattan’s safest, prettiest impulse buys.

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