There will be no beans in the Almost Perfect State
So, how do we feel about beans? I’d say ambivalent at best. We’re happy to see them among the macaroni salad and hot dogs, but no one craves beans. Not the way we crave bacon or cheese.
Nonetheless, Red Beans and Rice, Pasta e Fagioli, and Refried Beans are earthy peasant foods that have become classics–that we do crave.
And Gutierrez offers all these recipes and more, with a Southern twist. So her baked beans are made with fatback rather than salt pork and sorghum rather than molasses.
But she starts (as do all the books in the Savor the South series) with recollections, history, and good information about buying and cooking beans. “George Washington is credited with importing field peas to Virginia when he brought forty bushels of seeds to sow on his own land in 1797.” And of course, our third president and first gourmet, Thomas Jefferson notes growing and eating peas in his Farm Book.
Beans, from kidney beans to green beans are members of the Phaeolus genus, while field peas, which have nothing to do with beans are members of the Vigna genus. But Gutierrez admits, that vernacular names–often from Indian, African, Spanish, or Portuguese words–like crowder peas, cowpeas, butter beans, field peas, rockers, turkey craws, lady peas, or purple hulls, make it almost impossible to track and identify beans and field peas.
Better to just enjoy them. Gutierrez divides her recipes into classic and new southern dishes, and includes a chapter on international dishes. If you leave time for soaking and simmering, her recipe for Red Beans and Rice will fit into any schedule. And while a quick Pasta e Fagioli can be made from canned tomatoes, pasta, and canned cannelini beans, take the time to make Gutierrez’s version enriched with leeks, carrots, celery, shallots, and garlic. And if you’re setting up that backyard barbecue spread, Smoky New Potato, Green Bean, and Bacon Salad will fit right in, the green beans offering a bright snap against the smooth potatoes.
If any book can change your mind about beans–this is it.