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So apparently butter beans are the same thing as lima beans. And apparently everyone knew this but me. I’m going to keep calling them butter beans though, because it sounds more appetizing.

Whatever you call them, they’re in season and available at the farmers market RIGHT NOW. I ended up with a 5 lb bag of fresh shelled beans last week and immediately knew what recipe #1 was going to be, then decided to wing it for recipe #2. In the first, lemon and freshly ground black pepper perk up creamy beans and spinach. In the second, the beans are baked with zippy marinara and topped with parmesan and bread crumbs.

How to cook them:

2 cups fresh butter beans (if using dried beans, pre-soak by covering with 4x volume of water, bringing to a boil for 1 minute, turning off and letting stand for 1 hour)
1 bay leaf, 4 parsley springs, 2 thyme sprigs

Drain beans if soaked. Boil in 1 quart of fresh water for 15 minutes. Add the herbs and 1 tsp of salt and lower the heat to simmer for another 30-40 minutes, until tender. Drain (reserve 1 cup bean broth if making the beans with spinach). If the beans have thick skins, loosen and remove as many of them as you can. Apparently this is the part that makes them most difficult to digest and therefore most ‘musical’ so it’s worth it.

Butter beans with spinach, lemon and cream
(adapted from good old Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

I haven’t really figured out if this is a side dish, a main dish or a filling appetizer. Either way it’s rich and yummy and I haven’t gotten any complaints when serving up a warm bowl.

Cooked beans – see above
1 cup bean broth
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup chopped onion or leek
1 cup chopped parsley
1 bunch (8-10 oz) fresh spinach, stemmed and chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
squeeze of lemon
1/4 cup cream

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat and add onions. Cook until translucent, then add spinach and parsley and cook until wilted. Stir in bean broth and cook till it’s mostly evaporated. Add the beans, stir, and turn off the heat. Add cream, mix, then squeeze lemon and add salt and lots of pepper.

Baked butter beans, Italian style

I was inspired to try this baked dish after eating the Greek version with giant lima beans (I need to recreate that at some point too, but I’m holding out for the gigantes). It’s easy and tasty – tomato sauce goes unbelievably well with the beans. Next time I might throw some penne in and turn it into a pasta bean bake.

Cooked beans – see above
1 1/2 cups marinara sauce (your favorite recipe – Anupama’s fresh tomato sauce would be great here)
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan

Put the beans in a baking dish (I used a 9 x 5 loaf pan) and spread sauce over. Sprinkle cheese over sauce. Melt the butter and toss with bread crumbs. Gently press bread crumb mixture over the top of the dish.

Bake at 400 F for about 30 minutes, until the top browns. Cool and serve.