Slow-braised fresh lima beans are ready when you are

Ben Mims
Los Angeles Times

As a pantry staple, you can’t beat dried beans. They’re cheap, store well for a long time, and are filling and hearty. But the thing is, I just don’t have the patience for them. I often get the hankering for beans as soon as I’m hungry, and well, there’s no time for that critical step of soaking them overnight.

That’s why I often used canned beans for my weeknight cooking. But when fresh beans are in season in late summer and early autumn, I relish the time-intensive task of plucking them from the shells then baking them in a slow oven until tender.

Because I can be bothered to tediously open bean pods but can’t entertain tending a pot on the stove for hours, my preferred bean-cooking method is to chuck them in a baking dish with water and aromatics and let the oven do its thing. The usual suspects are present: onion, carrot and celery, along with whatever fresh, hardy herbs I have hanging out in the fridge. But then I toss in a few strips of prosciutto (Have a couple errant slices of bacon? Use those) to add their characteristic smoky, salty umami flavor. A dried chile de arbol spikes the low drum of the other aromatics.

A couple hours in the oven — half the time covered in foil, the other half open to the reducing, crisping powers of the oven heat — renders the beans on the bottom tender and those on top crunchy. The cooking liquid is concentrated and flavorful, the perfect elixir to soak up with bread. It’s a simple pot of beans, minus the pot, but that allows you all the smug satisfaction of being the type of person who plans ahead for a great meal.

Baked Fresh Lima Beans With Prosciutto and Chile

Note: The aromatics used here should be what you have around and their presence a casual one. If you have leftover chopped onions or carrots, use those instead. If you have a fresh chile and no dried ones, use that. Similarly, I often buy the “poultry” packets of fresh herbs, which contain both rosemary and sage, and thyme, so that I can use them all without having to buy large amounts of either.

Time: 2 hours 15 minutes.

Serves: 4 to 6.

41/2 cups shelled fresh lima beans (1 pound 6 ounces)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 sage leaf

1 small sprig rosemary

1 bay leaf

1 dried chile de arbol

6 peeled garlic cloves

4 strips prosciutto, torn into bite-size pieces

1/4 medium yellow onion, halved lengthwise

1/2 small carrot

1/2 small celery stalk, plus chopped celery leaves for serving

Toasted bread, for serving

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the beans in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and add the olive oil, salt, sage, rosemary, bay leaf, chile, garlic, prosciutto, onion, carrot and celery. Pour in four cups water. Cover the dish with foil and bake for one hour. Uncover and continue baking until beans are tender and the liquid is slightly reduced, one hour more.

Remove the dish from the oven and let the beans cool for five minutes. Spoon into bowls, drizzle with more olive oil if you like and sprinkle with celery leaves. Serve with bread for soaking up all the bean liquid.