This recipe comes to us from the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center Cookbook, which is well-thumbed this time of year. Now our copy has a few soup stains on the page with this recipe, the mark of a well-loved cookbook. Scarlet Runner Beans are beloved of gardeners, butterflies, and children alike. Perennial, vigorous, and prolific, they will rapidly cover a teepee, fence, or trellis with brilliant red blooms. Many a September gardener has been left staring at handfulls of the mottled purple, black, and brown beans, peering at them closely, as if the vibrant patterns on their skin might reveal…what to do with them. They are huge, thick skinned and mysterious. Luckily, despite their size and confounding colors, the beans cook down to a creamy, savory texture. This recipe is pure September; the end of season runner beans, the tomatoes red and ready for harvest, the weather cool enough, in the evening, to make a bowl of savory stew sound like just the thing. It is just the thing.
Makes 4 servings.
NOTE: Make sure to leave time to soak the beans beforehand overnight.
In a large soup pot, add the beans, and enough water to cover by several inches. Don’t salt the beans until after they are thoroughly cooked; salt added to beans before they are fully cooked hardens the skins. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until completely cooked through. Depending on the freshness of your beans, this may take all of 2 hours. Drain and rinse.
Transfer the roasted tomatoes to a large soup pot. Blend with an immersion blender.
Put a dash of oil in a skillet on medium heat, add the garlic and hot pepper, and saute for 1 minute, until the garlic mellows just a little. Add to the tomato puree.
When you are ready to serve the soup, cut the blackening tomatoes in half. Heat up a cast iron skillet on high, and add a shy drizzle of sunflower oil (Too much prevents a good char from forming.) Place the tomatoes cut side down, and resist the urge to move them or peek.
Leave them to char until you literally smell them burning, at least a few minutes. With one smooth swift motion, pressing firmly underneath them with a thin, sharp spatula to preserve the crust, flip the tomatoes over and let them brown, skin side down, for another few minutes.
To serve, top the stew with fresh thyme and parsley, and individually place whole blackened tomatoes into each bowl. This stew pairs excellently with soft polenta or crusty bread.
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