September shell game

Fresh romano beans
Fresh romano beans

Leave the canned beans for winter and reach for handfuls of fresh romano beans, available by the bushel right now from Ontario farms.

You can’t miss these beauties, their long pods streaked with a vivid pink. The plump, shiny beans inside are a swirl of cream and pink. Unfortunately their colour’s only skin-deep, and they turn boring beige when cooked. But they make up for it with a nutty, earthy flavour and creamy texture.

Italians love romanos, which they call borlotti beans. Americans call them cranberry beans for their colour. I’m not sure why Canadians chose romano but at least we’re consistent — you’ll find it describing the fresh beans, bags of tawny dried beans and canned beans, both widely available in supermarkets.

The fresh beans are easy to shell, they don’t need presoaking and they cook in under an hour. They’re great in soups, salads, stews and pastas, they love snuggling up to fresh field tomatoes and they stand up deliciously to garlic and assertive greens like kale and rapini.

Buy & Store

  • Look for fresh romanos in markets and supermarkets with an Italian or Portuguese bent.
  • Choose fresh-looking pods that are full of beans — run your fingers over the pods to check. Dry-looking is OK, but brown and withered pods won’t do.
  •  Refrigerate unwashed pods in a plastic bag in the crisper and use within four days, or refrigerate shelled beans for up to three days.
  • To freeze, lay shelled beans in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until solid. Transfer to freezer bag or airtight container and freeze up to six months.
  • One pound of pods (500 g) yields about 2 cups (500 mL) of shelled beans.


  • Cook fresh romanos low and slow to keep the beans intact. When boiled, the skin toughens and they split in half, which makes a most unappealing salad.
  • To cook, cover with 2 inches of water or stock, add 1 tsp (5 mL) salt and herbs of your choice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and cook, uncovered, until tender, 35 to 40 minutes. For extra flavour, let beans cool in their cooking liquid.
  • Romanos love assertive flavours such as rapini, pancetta, garlic, olive oil, sage, even blue cheese.
  • Bags of dried romano beans are easy to find in any supermarket. They retain their stripes, but turn a darker caramel colour when dried. Soak dry romanos overnight, cover with water or stock and simmer about an hour, or until tender.


  • Braise in stock instead of water for a delicious side dish. Add wilted kale, Swiss chard or rapini for lunch, and add sausage or cooked chicken for a hearty dinner.
  • For a warm salad, drain cooked beans and toss with olive or walnut oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and minced fresh parsley. Serve at room temperature.
  • For a dip, purée cooked beans with a little cooking liquid and season to taste.
Zuppa di Fagioli Romani
Zuppa di Fagioli Romani

Zuppa di Fagioli Romani

 To celebrate the harvest, almost every ingredient in this satisfying soup is fresh and local. When winter comes, substitute a 28-oz (796 mL) can of tomatoes, drained and chopped, and a 19-oz (540 mL) can of romano beans, drained and rinsed.


3 cups (750 mL) shelled romano beans

4 cups (1 L) water

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 sage leaves

2 tsp (10 mL) salt

5 peppercorns


1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil

100 g pancetta (or bacon), finely diced

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 stalk celery, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 medium field tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh sage

1 tsp (5 mL) salt or to taste

1/2 tsp (2 mL) freshly ground pepper

900 mL Tetra Pak or 4 cups/1 L sodium-reduced chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup (250 mL) short pasta (ditali or elbow macaroni), cooked to package directions


1/4 cup (60 mL) finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

1/2 cup (125 mL) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

In large saucepan place beans, water, garlic, sage, salt and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, about 40 minutes or until tender. Do not boil. Turn off heat and let beans cool in liquid. Drain and use in soup, salads or in pasta.

For soup, heat olive oil in a big pot over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook 5 minutes, until it loses most of its fat. Stir in onion, celery, carrot and garlic and cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft. Add tomatoes, sage, salt and pepper to taste and simmer 10 minutes, until soft. Add stock and cooked beans and simmer another 20 minutes to blend flavours. Make soup up to a week ahead and refrigerate.

Just before serving, reheat soup with cooked pasta so it doesn’t get soggy or soak up a lot of liquid.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with parsley and pass the cheese. Serve immediately and freeze leftovers.

Makes 8 cups (2 L) soup.

Published Aug. 22, 2013 in the Toronto Star


  1. I made this soup a couple of weeks ago with fresh romano beans from my local farmers market. It was delicious and a big hit with the family. Thanks for a great recipe!

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