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Cooking with freshly shelled Borlotti beans is pure pleasure. First, shelling them is like opening Christmas presents because the brilliant yellow and red streaked pods and the re-flecked beans are both so beautiful. I love that they cook quickly, hold their firm-yet-tender texture, and have a subtle herbal flavor unique among beans. I like to prepare them in ways that give them recognition and allow them to shine. Simpler is better.

Fresh Borlotti Beans with Garlic and Herb Oil

Ingredients for the beans: 2 to 3 cups freshly shelled Borlotti beans, 1 sprig fresh sage, 1 sprig fresh rosemary, 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 dried hot chile, 2 garlic cloves, 1 tsp salt

Rinse the beans and put them in a saucepan with water to cover (about 3 cups). Add the herbs, chile, peeled garlic cloves, and salt. Bring the water to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are tender. Cooking time will vary depending on the maturity of the beans, but is usually 25 to 35 minutes. Let the beans cool in their liquid. Drain and discard the herbs and chile, but reserve the liquid.

Garlic-Herb Oil

Ingredients: 4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, 1 Tbs finely chopped garlic, 2 tsp minced rosemary, 2 tsp finely chopped sage leaves, 2 tsp finely chopped thyme leaves, 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, salt, fresh lemon juice and finely chopped parsley for serving

Warm the olive oil in a small pan over low heat. Add the garlic and cook gently a few minutes, until soft and fragrant. Stir in the herbs and pepper. Turn off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, preferably 1 hour.

Pour the infused oil over the cooked beans and stir to coat well. Season with salt and a squeeze or two of lemon juice to taste. Sprinkle with parsley and serve plain or over a bed of arugula, endive, or radicchio. Or add some of the reserved cooking liquid back in and toss with pasta.

Additions: finely chopped red onion, diced tomato, crumbled bacon or pancetta, shaved Parmesan...

An easy variation: Garlic and Herb Borlotto Bean Bruschetta

Mash 1 cup cooked Borlotti beans with 2 Tbs Garlic-Herb Oil and 2 or 3 Tbs reserved cooking liquid to make a puree. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Stir 1 or 2 Tbs infused oil into the remaining whole beans. Season with salt and pepper and mix in a few Tbs finely chopped parsley and finely chopped red onion. Spread slices of toasted sourdough bread with the pureed beans and top with the whole bean mixture. I like a little chile oil, too.

Fresh-shelled Borlotti beans cooked with herbs and garlic can be used in many other dishes. Stir the cooked beans and chunks of browned Italian sausage into a pot of polenta, or make Borlotto bean-tomato risotto, or baked Penne with Borlotti beans and tomato sauce, or a great Pasta e Fagioli (pasta and bean soup), or add them to a minestrone.

Fresh-shelled Borlotti beans freeze very well. Just pop them in a freezer bag, and you can enjoy their wonderful flavor all through the year.