Whenever I bart down to the Ferry Building for a Saturday morning market, I sit on the train and fiddle with my self-allocated $40, reciting a plan of attack in my head. I envision myself proceeding calmly between booths, buying kumquats out front, leafy greens in back, hitting up the the corner lavender stand for a bundle of mixed herbs that fit nicely into my last remaining pocket. But somehow I always end up fumbling with cash as I crisscross aisles and inevitably crush something delicate under a hefty impulse purchase—blood oranges or cherimoya, say.
One standard fixture in my biweekly meanderings is a stop at Rancho Gordo's Embarcadero-facing booth for a 1 lb sack of heirloom beans. In my early market-going days, I felt physical pain when handing over a 5 dollar bill for a single, seemingly humble item, but now I know that every bag I buy will sustain me for days. Whether simmered with garlic and onion, reheated and mashed in olive oil, sprinkled with cheese over quinoa, or enfolded in a breakfast burrito, beans are the ideal ingredient for stretching across a succession of meals. Plus, the Rancho Gordo folks are invariably helpful when it comes to describing each variety's characteristics and cooking requirements. (Visit their website for an quick tutorial in dried-bean preparation.)
I've eaten ojo de cabra, Good Mother Stallard, and the more traditional cannellini in the past, but was most recently convinced to buy burgundy-speckled Christmas Limas. So named for their chestnut flavor, they were promised to be "something different, with a pot liquor you'll just want to drink up" by their vendor. After giving them a quick rinse in a colander, I covered the large (lima-sized) and glossy specimens with an inch of cold water, then diced and sauteed a combo of carrrot, fennel, garlic, and yellow onion, which I added to the pot (along with a few fresh thyme sprigs) before bringing it up to a boil. Once the pot was bubbling rapidly, I lowered the heat and covered the beans, letting them simmer for almost 2 hours, until a test-bean possessed my preferred balance of starch and squishiness.
That first night, I salted them, poured on some good olive oil, and ate them alongside gruyere cheese toast. On a forthcoming chilly evening, I'll probably turn the remaining legumes (and their subtly sweet cooking liquid) into a sausage-studded chili or stew, or maybe whip them into a spicy mash paired with creamy polenta.
**NOTE** If you wish to avoid the often-swarmed ferry building outpost, RG beans can also be procured at Blue Fog markets and various grocery stores around SF, as well as on their aforementioned website.