It's pantry cleaning season. With squash flowers turning to fruit and green tomatoes gaining weight on the vine, the time has come to clear the dark, musty shelves of last year's dry goods and make room for a new crop.
This early July pause between the wealth of August and the long, uncertain supply of winter and spring sees the bottom of oat tins, jam jars, and flour bins. Licked clean and dry, the shelves and containers line up one by one, waiting patiently for a refill.
The soldier beans on my kitchen hutch have been especially composed. They have watched as the oats, pasta, beach plum jelly, and pickles have gone before them, popped open and tucked into the fridge, and then one day gone entirely. They have said goodbye to the lamb, the squash, and the berries in the freezer, and even a container of last summer's thawed gazpacho.
Finally several days ago, I went to them. I cracked open their lid, poured several cups from the jar, and picked them over. I rinsed them in the colander, set them into a crock, and covered them with cool water for a soak.
Then again, I forgot them. They sat for three days—three long, hot days—before I noticed them again, and when I did, I feared it was too late. The water looked cloudy and white. A quick rinse, however, proved the beans resilient; firm and smooth, they were ready for the pot. I filled it with cold water and a dash of olive oil and salt and poured the soldiers in, turning the flame to simmer beneath the silver bottom.
Several hours later, the beans were tender. With most of the water evaporated, they mashed easily. I chopped a purple scallion and crushed a clove of garlic for seasoning; a crank of salt and pepper, several spoonfuls more of oil, and a turn in the frying pan, and they were ready to eat.
I thought of making them into a burrito, or perhaps a sandwich of some sort, but after all they'd been through, it seemed too much. Instead I ate them plain, on a plate, topped with a scallop and a side of fresh sugar snaps, and let their strength soak in and take root in my belly—a more fitting end, I thought, for such a patient batch of bold, red-eyed soldiers.
SOLDIER BEAN RE-FRY
Makes 3 cups cooked beans
Soak 2 cups dried soldier beans overnight. Drain and rinse, picking over for discolored or bad looking beans. Simmer in a large pot with 6-8 cups water for 2-3 hours or until tender; drain. In a large cast-iron frying pan, heat up 3-4 tablespoons olive oil. When hot, add beans and mash. Stir in 4 chopped scallions, 1 clove minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook several minutes, or until flavors are absorbed.
Serve hot or reuse in burritos, quesadillas, sandwiches, dips, sides, or over toast.