If you've never cooked with borlotti beans aka cranberry beans you're in for a treat. These beautiful, speckled legumes are creamy and filling and they make perfect base for lovely stews and casseroles.
In this guide I will show you how to cook them fresh or dried with canned version at the back of your cupboard as a great fallback when short on time.
What are borlotti beans?
Borlotti beans are a variety of the common bean (phaseolus vulgaris) and are close relatives of kidney beans.
They first originated in Colombia but are now grown outside of Americas. They are really popular in Italian, Portuguese, Turkish and Greek cuisines.
They're also known as cranberry beans, Roman beans, saluggia beans and rosecoco beans.
Beautifully speckled with crimson lines when fresh and dried, they turn brown once cooked but don't let that put you off.
Their plump, creamy flesh that holds it own lovely, almost nutty flavour more than makes up for it.
Fresh borlotti beans are quite a rarity here in the UK but if you're lucky you might come across them via one of the veg box delivery schemes, your local farmers' market or perhaps you grow your own (they're on my list for growing next year).
🔪 How to prepare them
Fresh Borlotti Beans
When preparing fresh beans, first thing you need to do is to shell or pod them.
That's all there is to it. Once podded they're ready to cook.
Dried Borlotti Beans
First thing to do when preparing any dried beans including borlotti is to sort them.
The reason for this is to remove any broken beans as well as any debris e.g small stones, that might have ended up in the bag during packing (you would be surprised).
Next, give sorted beans a good rinse to remove any dirt and dust that even if not really visible is pretty much inevitable.
Last but not least, as with most beans dried borlotti beans can be soaked before cooking.
To do that, put beans in a large bowl and cover them with fresh water about 5cm (2inch) above the level of the beans to allow them to plump up.
Soak them overnight or for minimum of 8 hours, rinse well under running water and now they're ready to be cooked.
***Quick Tip*** I do recommend soaking dried beans as not only does it reduce cooking time but also makes them easier to digest. Feel free to skip it though and adjust cooking time accordingly.
🧑🍳 Cooking fresh borlotti beans
Fresh borlotti beans are really easy to cook and they don't take much time at all.
I like to cook them super simply in some water with added aromatics like onion, garlic, bay leaf, rosemary, thyme and sage.
Cooked this way, the beans are then ready to be added to variety of dishes (more on that below) or served as a simple side.
***Quick Tip*** I didn't add any salt to my beans as they were destined for a dish that would be seasoned at a later stage but do feel free to add some salt to your cooking water.
Firstly, put podded beans in a medium pan together with your chosen herbs and other aromatics and pour in enough fresh water to cover them.
Put the pan on a medium to high heat and bring to boil (uncovered).
Next, lower the heat, cover the pan almost completely and simmer gently for about 35-40 minutes until beans are tender.
***Quick Tip*** Make sure to check on them to make sure that they have enough water and top up if need be. At the end of cooking you should have very little to none liquid left.
Take the pan off the heat, remove the aromatics and your freshly borlotti beans are now ready to use.
🧑🍳 Cooking dried borlotti beans
After your dried beans have been sorted, soaked and rinsed you get get on with cooking.
Put prepared borlotti beans and cover them with water about 5cm/2inch above the level of the beans.
Bring the pan to boil, lower the heat and simmer gently (partly covered) for about 1-½ hours until tender to your liking.
You can start checking on them at 45 minutes mark to check level of tenderness and then every 10 minutes until they're to your liking.
***Quick Tip*** Feel free to add aromatics + carrot, celery when cooking your dried beans just as you would with fresh ones. Not only will they impart flavour to the beans but also give you flavourful bean stock out of the cooking liquid when finished.
Instant Pot or any other pressure cooker is a popular vessel for cooking dried beans.
In my opinion (speaking from experience) it is definitely great for cooking dried chickpeas and black beans but when it comes to borlotti beans - not so much.
I would recommend cooking them on the hob as it gives you more control over their doneness and you are much less likely to overcook them.
Having said that, if you don't mind slightly overcooked beans, perhaps you want to use them to make hummus or bean puree, then cooking them in the Instant Pot is a fuss free way of doing it. ⬇️
Put soaked beans you drained and rinsed in the Instant Pot and cover with fresh water about 5cm(2inches) above the level of the beans. Feel free to add any aromatics you like.
Close the lid and move the valve to sealing position.
Cook your beans on "Manual" setting at high pressure for 7-9 minutes.
Once the time is up let the pressure release naturally.
Fresh Beans: They can b stored in the fridge for up to a week in their pods but the sooner you use them the better.
Dried Beans: They can be stored for a very long time in a cool, dry place and away from direct sunlight.
Cooked Beans: Keep them in the airtight container in the fridge and use up within a week. Alternatively, freeze in portions for up to 3 months.
💭 Pro Tips
When choosing aromatics to use when cooking borlotti beans go for woody herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, bay leaf. Soft herbs like basil, mint, dill, parsley etc. should be used with already cooked beans as that's when they taste their best.
Keep the cooking liquid especially if you flavoured it. It makes wonderful bean stock you can add to soups, stews etc.
Don't be afraid of salt when cooking beans. Some say it makes the beans harder and therefore they cook longer but that is not my experience. Most of the time, however, I choose to cook my beans without salt and season the actual dish I'm adding them to.
Keep an eye on the beans when cooking to make sure you can add more liquid if they're running dry but are still not tender enough.
If you're planning on flavouring the beans with anything acidic like lemon juice, vinegars, tomatoes don't add them until towards the end of cooking the beans or when they're already cooked. These are the culprits that might make your beans cook for longer.
🍴 Serving suggestions
Borlotti or cranberry beans are super versatile.
One of my favourite ways of serving them is to mix them gently with some good quality extra virgin olive oil, a little bit of fresh or roasted garlic, salt, pepper, lemon juice and some fresh herbs like basil or mint. It's such a simple and delicious side dish.
Once cooked, there is an indefinite number of ways in which you can use them:
- Add to soups, stews and casseroles.
- Use to make posh baked beans.
- Use them in the same way you would chickpeas to make hummus.
- Use them in Italian Minestrone or Ribollita soups.
- Add as protein to grain bowls.
- Use in your ultimate bean chilli.
- Add to homemade tomato sauce and serve over creamy polenta.
I would definitely recommend it as it makes them easier to digest and they cook quicker too.
Yes, just like all other beans borlotti (cranberry) beans are naturally gluten-free.
I would say cannellini or pinto beans.
Definitely. They are a great source of plant protein, rich in fibre and potassium
Have you found my Guide to Cooking Borlotti Beans useful?
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How to Cook Borlotti Beans
- 600 g fresh borlotti beans in pods approx. 320g podded weight
- 500 ml fresh water The amount of water might differ depending on the amount of beans you've got, just make sure the beans are covered.
- 1 small onion peeled and cut in half
- 2 garlic cloves peeled and left whole
- 1 rosemary sprig
- few sprigs of fresh thyme
- few fresh sage leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- salt to taste optional (see notes)
- Start by podding your fresh borlotti beans.600 g fresh borlotti beans in pods
- Put podded beans in a medium pan together with your chosen herbs and other aromatics and pour in enough fresh water to cover them.500 ml fresh water, 1 small onion, 2 garlic cloves, 1 rosemary sprig, few sprigs of fresh thyme, few fresh sage leaves, 1 bay leaf, salt to taste
- Put the pan on a medium to high heat and bring to boil (uncovered).
- Lower the heat, cover the pan almost completely and simmer gently for about 35-40 minutes until beans are tender.Make sure to check on them to make sure that they have enough water and top up if need be. At the end of cooking you should have very little to none liquid left.
- Take the pan off the heat, remove the aromatics and your freshly borlotti beans are now ready to use.
- Nutritional information is approximate, per serving (based on 4 servings of plain, cooked beans without salt) and should be treated as a rough guideline only.
- Treat suggested aromatics as a guideline only and feel free to use whatever you fancy. Stick to woody herbs for cooking though.
- I don't usually add salt when cooking my beans as will usually salt the dish I'm adding them to but feel free to add salt to cooking water. Add a bit at the start, you can always add more later.
- For instructions on how to cook dried borlotti beans, see above - Cooking Dried Borlotti Beans.
- Once cooked, borlotti beans can be stored in the fridge for up to a week or frozen for up to 3 months.