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Food

Slow-braised fresh lima beans are ready when you are

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A simple dish of fresh Christmas lima beans slow-braised with aromatics and prosciutto makes for an easy weekend project. Prop styling by Nidia Cueva.
(Mariah Tauger / 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.

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Raw Christmas lima beans have a tie-dye-like purple coloring that’s beautiful but ultimately fades when cooked. Prop styling by Nidia Cueva.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

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 árbol spikes the low drum of the other aromatics.

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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.

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Cooked fresh lima beans, swimming in flavorful prosciutto-and-herb broth, perfect for sopping up with toasted bread. Prop styling by Nidia Cueva.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Baked Fresh Lima Beans with Prosciutto and Chile

2 hours 15 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

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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 in place of the whole pieces. 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.

  • 1 pound 6 ounces shelled fresh lima beans (about 4 ½ cups)
  • ¼ 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 árbol
  • 6 peeled garlic cloves
  • 4 strips prosciutto, torn into bite-size pieces
  • ¼ medium yellow onion, halved lengthwise
  • ½ small carrot, halved lengthwise
  • ½ small celery stalk, halved lengthwise, plus chopped celery leaves, for serving.
  • Toasted bread, for serving

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. 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 4 cups water. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover the dish and continue baking until the beans are tender and the cooking liquid is slightly reduced, 1 hour more.

3. Remove the dish from the oven, and let the beans cool for 5 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.


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