Flageolets, French Style

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: 1 to 2 hours, largely unattended

Flageolets, the small pale green beans that are actually immature kidney beans, are adored in Western Europe and are known for their delicate flavor. The addition of cream simply enhances it (they’ve been doing this in France for centuries). To vary the flavor, replace the thyme sprigs with tarragon or garnish with chopped tarragon, chives, or chervil.

Other beans you can use: cranberry, navy, or lima.

8 ounces dried flageolets, washed, picked over, and soaked if you like

1 medium onion, unpeeled

1 bay leaf

1 clove

1 carrot, cut into chunks

4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1 cup cream, preferably not ultra-pasteurized

Chopped parsley leaves for garnish

Put the beans in a large pot with water to cover. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil.

Cut a slit in the onion and insert the bay leaf; insert the clove into the onion as well and put the onion in the pot. Add the carrot and thyme. Turn the heat down so the beans bubble gently and cover loosely.

When the beans begin to soften, after about 30 minutes, season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender but still intact, about 45 minutes; add water if necessary.

Drain the beans and discard the onion and carrot. Put the butter and shallot in a deep skillet large enough to hold the beans. Turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallot softens, about 5 minutes. Add the cream and the beans and continue to cook, stirring, until the beans are hot and have absorbed some of the cream, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, garnish, and serve.

Variations

Flageolets with Fennel. Adding a delicate anise flavor: Replace the onion and carrot with about 1 cup chopped fennel; discard the bay leave and clove but not the fennel in Step 4. Garnish with a couple teaspoons grated lemon zest or Citrus Sprinkle.

Flageolets with Tomatoes. Great color, different flavor: Add 1 cup or more chopped fresh or canned tomato in Step 2.

Flageolets with Lettuce. The fresh flavor of the lettuce enhances that of the flageolets: Stir in 1 to 2 cups shredded lettuce or radicchio in Step 4.