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Borlotti Beans

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By Malcolm Jolley

The great American food writer Waverly Root figures the first European to see a "haricot bean" was Columbus himself in Cuba, though Jacques Cartier also claimed to have discovered them along the St. Lawrence 40 odd years later. It's fitting that the historical record on this broad category of legume is mixed, since the beans pictured above often go by different names. Stateside, they're often called "cranberry beans", in the pictures in some of our British cookbooks, red and white mottled beans are labelled "cannellini", though other texts limit this appellation to the all white variety prized in Tuscany. In the stands of some Toronto green grocers, they will be noted with a sign that says "Roma". There does, however, seems to be a growing census in a wide range of cookery texts, though, that these are really "Borlotti". The matter of what to actually call them diminishes greatly once they're cooked, since the lovely markings are rendered into a greyish mush anyway that could pass as cannellini, at least to me. the important thing is that they are fresh, have a short season and are delicious when cooked the traditional Italian way: simmering, covered in water with garlic cloves, rosemary branches and a whole split tomato.


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