Bean and tomato salad with honey vinaigrette

Have I mentioned Rancho Gordo in any of my posts yet? Let me take that opportunity now. RANCHO. GORDO. They are an heirloom bean producer out of Northern California, and if you like beans, they deserve your attention.

They produce myriad beans, many of which you've never heard of, such as the Ayocote Morado beans in the photo above. One thing that is unique about their beans (aside from the diversity of their offerings) is that they are fresh. I know that isn't intuitive, as they are dried beans, but they are fresh in the sense that when you get them, they haven't been sitting in a warehouse for a year or two (or on a supermarket shelf for that length of time). They cook quicker and are, in my opinion, superior tasting to any other beans I've had. I've tried about 6 different varieties, and a testament to the love I have for all that I've tried is the 23 lb box of beans I currently await from the UPS guy.

I love beans. They are simple, hearty and nourishing. The are not at all a hassle to cook from scratch, and you can bubble up a good sized batch and freeze whatever you don't eat with pleasing results. They can be used a million different ways, and generally they cost next to nothing, somewhat fancy heirlooms aside. The dried beans in my local Whole Foods bulk bin start at $.99/lb.

You're starting to get the theme throughout recent postings that I have a LOT of tomato and basil plants, and that I get green beans from the farm nearly every week. Well, I don't like to eat them the same way every time, so I'm constantly scouring recipe books for ideas and inspiration. Fortunately, there seems to be no limit to the number of books I can check out from my local library, so the ideas keep coming.

I have found quite a few very inspiring recipes in the newest book from the folks at Eating Well. I've never subscribed to their magazine, but I need to rethink that, as every cookbook of theirs I own or have borrowed from the library has been particularly good. Their latest offering Eating Well In Season: The Farmer's Market Cookbook is fairly conducive to the produce that I receive from our local CSA each week.

This next recipe uses (Rancho Gordo!) dried beans, fresh green beans, tomatoes AND basil, so it's an ideal staple for the summer months!

Bean and tomato salad with honey vinaigrette
Adapted from Eating Well In Season
Serves 8 as a side dish

1 1/4 c dried beans, preferably heirloom (I used Ayocote Morado from Rancho Gordo)
Bay leaf or epazote
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c red onion, minced
1/4 c cider vinegar
4 tsp wildflower honey
1 tsp peanut or canola oil
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 lb green beans, trimmed and cut into 2 in. pieces
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 lb medium or large mixed tomatoes, multiple colors, chopped
1/2 c fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

Pick over dried beans for stones or debris, rinse them, then place in a stockpot, cover with 3 inches of water and soak at room temperature for 2 hours or up to overnight.

Bring beans and bay leaf/epazote to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Partially cover and simmer very gently until tender, 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the age and freshness of your beans. Check the level of the liquid regularly. If it drops below the beans, add one cup (or more as needed) hot water. When the beans are tender, remove from heat and drain.

Combine the beans, the salt, onion, vinegar, honey, oil and pepper in a large bowl. Stir, cover and refrigerate to marinate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Cook green beans in a large pot of boiling water until crisp-tender, 3-5 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Pat dry and add to the marinated beans. Stir in tomatoes and basil. Taste seasoning and adjust as necessary.

**Note: I often cook more dried beans than called for then freeze the extra in some of the pot liquor when done so that I can grab them on a day I don't want to cook. They freeze beautifully.

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