On a summer evening some years ago, two of the South’s most celebrated writers, William Faulkner and Katherine Anne Porter, were dining together at a plush restaurant in Paris. Everything had been laid out to perfection; a splendid meal had been consumed, a bottle of fine Burgundy emptied, and thimble-sized glasses of an expensive liqueur drained. The maître d’ and an entourage of waiters hovered close by, ready to satisfy any final whim.
“Back home the butter beans are in,’ said Faulkner, peering into the distance, ‘the speckled ones.”
Miss Porter fiddled with her glass and stared into space. “Blackberries,” she said wistfully.
-Eugene Walter, American Cooking, Southern Style (1971)
If that doesn’t make you crave butter beans, nothing I can say will.
For those of you who don’t need any convincing, I have a confession to make: I have been holding out on you, eating the most delicious butter beans imaginable for a few months now without sharing the recipe.
In my defense, I did have my reasons.
The first is that I was always too busy eating to snap a decent picture of these butter beans. I finally just gave up — hence the half-eaten bowl of food in the picture above.
The second is that, while I had a nice freezer stash of last year’s butter beans, I know that most people don’t enthusiastically hoard legumes in their freezers (oh, but you should). I thought you might be more likely to actually try this recipe if I held off posting until the arrival of butter bean season. Fortunately that wait is over.
I’ve eaten butter beans my entire life, but never with leeks. The idea to pair them came from “A Chef’s Life,” a PBS show about a chef up the road in Kinston. An early episode made mention of butter beans served with leeks and I just kept thinking about how good that sounded.
In this recipe, the leeks cook down slowly until they practically melt into oblivion, at which point you unceremoniously dump the butter beans into the pot, stir in a few herbs and serve. The result is nothing short of amazing.
I like these butter beans eaten al fresco, nestled alongside a seven-minute egg and a pile of herby couscous. Or pair them with red-skinned new potatoes, lightly cooked green beans and a glass of rosé. You may never want to eat anything else again.
Inspired by "A Chef's Life."
- 2.5 cups butter beans
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 medium-sized leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and sliced into half moons
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- salt and pepper
In a large pot, melt the butter, add the leeks and a pinch of salt. Cook, covered, over low to medium-low heat until the leeks are so soft that they begin to break down, at least 30 minutes — longer if you have the time.
While the leeks are cooking, bring the butter beans and plenty of water to boil in a separate pot. Lower the heat until the beans are just simmering and cook until tender, about 20-30 minutes.
Drain the butter beans and add them to the leeks. Add several grinds of fresh pepper. Stir together, taste and add more salt if needed. Remove from heat, add thyme leaves and serve.