This is as sexy as lima beans will ever get.
Of the many varieties of Rancho Gordo heirloom beans I received for Christmas, the ones I was most unsure what to do with were, ironically, the big, reddish-brown-and-white-dappled, supposedly chestnut-flavored Christmas lima beans. So I was excited to find this recipe from the Rancho Gordo cookbook (which my library annoyingly doesn't have) at the Kitchn. Although it was written for Florida butter beans, it mentioned that Christmas lima beans could be used instead. Score!
I hardly need to bother saying that it was delicious. As if anything could taste bad when covered in caramelized onions and bacon! But the beans themselves had a wonderfully savory flavor (I can’t vouch for whether it was reminiscent of chestnuts or not, having never to my knowledge eaten a chestnut to begin with) that made this dish more than the sum of its parts. The only flaw was that, although I cooked them even longer than the recipe called for, they didn’t turn out quite soft enough for my taste. The one I tested before declaring them done and turning off the stove was perfectly tender, but when we began to eat I discovered that most of the others were firmer and a few were downright crunchy in the middle. I’m not sure I can blame the recipe—I was a little impatient, what with being distracted by watching the Oscars while I cooked, and these are big honkin’ beans, possibly bigger than the Florida butter beans, so maybe I needed to adjust the cooking time accordingly. Anyway, it’s an easy fix: allow plenty of time to cook them and make sure they’re fully soft, and with very little effort you’ll have one heck of an elegant-yet-comforting (and very pretty, if I do say) dish that’ll please bean-lovers and lima-phobes alike. I’m so happy that I have a stash of enough Christmas lima beans to make this three more times in the future.
½ pound Christmas lima beans
4 slices high-quality bacon, diced
2½ medium yellow onions
2 celery stalks, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Salt to taste
¾ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Place beans in a stockpot and cover with three inches of cold water. Soak for 4–6 hours.
2. Add more cold water if needed to cover the beans by 1 inch. Place stockpot on the stove and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until beans are beginning to soften, about 1 hour.
3. In a medium, heavy skillet over medium heat, sauté the bacon until fat is rendered and bacon is beginning to brown, 8–10 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
4. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat from the pan and reserve. Chop half of an onion and add to the pan over medium heat. Add celery and garlic and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add vegetables to the beans, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until beans are tender, 1 to 1½ hours. When beans are nearly soft, season them with salt.
5. After adding vegetables to beans, cut the remaining 2 onions in half, then slice them thinly. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of bacon fat to the skillet and set over medium-low heat. Add the sliced onions and a few pinches of salt. Cook, stirring, until onions wilt. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are medium brown, soft, and caramelized, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add 2 tablespoons water and stir to loosen any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the bacon to the onions and heat gently.
6. When beans are fully tender, place them in serving bowls (drain off any excess liquid first) and top each serving with some of the onion-bacon mixture.
Time: 2–3 hours, plus soaking time
Leftover potential: Good.