Starting out in the restaurant business, Fall smelled like the burning hickory of the oven at the restaurant Bottega and working football weekends in Birmingham. Professionally, fall was the memorable season when my first restaurant opened. During the fall of 2000, a perfect mix of quality culinary training and joyful disorganization pushed local, seasonal fall vegetables into the market. Well ahead of the national curve, long before there were “locavores” or “foodies,” Chattanooga became a place where it was okay to serve asparagus in October, but savvy diners knew better. After all, it is distinct seasons and the change in the weather that makes Chattanooga so nice, and part of how we celebrate the seasons is with the food we eat.
Understandably, Fall doesn’t benefit from the culinary glamour of Summer. Not many people plan a fall garden. My kids won’t get excited about running out and checking the butternut squash plant like they did with tomatoes. Many locals will count fall as their favorite season, but it’s not as easy to carry that love of seasonality over to eating what is harvested in the area and the vegetables that mimic the change in the weather coincides with the delivery of fall beans from the region. My brother used to return from the old farmer’s market on 11th Street with bushels of shelled beans bearing names like cranberry, October and rattlesnake, purchased from guys with names like “Peanut” and grown in places like Sand Mountain and Fort Payne. Completely different from a baked bean or a rehydrated bean, both of which have a tendency to become mushy when fully cooked, these beans burst with freshness and a flavor that is undeniably a product of the Fall.
The key to bringing out the beauty of local beans is the layering of flavors as the ingredients cook. The same technique applies to so many different dishes and it is worth trying on this sample, seasonally appropriate dish. To create a proper serving size, start with about six cups of shelled beans. Start a pot over medium heat with a strong drizzle of olive oil (this is a place to use your good olive oil, because all the subtle flavors will play a part.) Chop up a few pieces of bacon, add them to oil and let the bacon cook down for about 10 minutes-you mostly want to render out the fat to layer with the olive oil. Add a quartered stalk of celery, a peeled and quartered carrot and a peeled and quartered yellow onion. Let these vegetables cook until tender; you don’t need to babysit them, however-make sure they brown but don’t burn. Add the beans to the pot and stir them around to coat them in the natural oils that you have built up in the pot. Don’t forget the salt and pepper. Now is a good time to throw in a few sprigs of thyme, rosemary or both to take part in the liquid-based cooking. Cover the beans by about 1/2 inch with chicken stock or a vegetable stock if you omitted the bacon, turn the burner down to a simmer and let the beans cook for about 30 minutes, or until they are cooked to the softness you like. Strain the beans and remove the carrot, celery, onion and herb stems. If you want to make these ahead of time, strain the liquid, but save a little bit to moisten the beans as you re-heat them.
Look for fall beans- at the Chattanooga Market, at roadside produce stands, at P&P Produce on 11th Street and ask about them wherever you buy produce. They are heavily grown within 30 miles of Chattanooga.
Serve local beans with-obviously, anything pork. Any meat that is slow cooked or smoked. Duck or duck confit if you are a bit fancy. Also, consider them as a great seasonal side for a dense fish or shellfish, like trout or scallops. Enjoy!
Story by: Nathan Lindley, owner of The Public House restaurant in Warehouse Row. See www.publichousechattanooga.com.
This article was originally published in 2011 October/November Issue of Chattanooga Magazine.