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Borlotti Beans: Kitchen Basics

Beans cranberry

Borlotti beans
Borlotti beans are also known as cranberry beans

Just tender cooked borlotti beans–often called cranberry beans–are a tasty late summer snack.

Quick Recipe: Use your thumb to pop open the fresh-picked speckled pods, place a few handfuls of beans in a skillet and cover with just an inch of water; add a couple of cloves of garlic, peppercorns, and fresh sage, and simmer until they are just tender about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain away the water; let the beans dry a minute or two in a colander or on paper towels; lightly salt to taste and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. You can serve them alone warm or cooled or add them to the antipasto tray with mixed cheeses and sausages.

Snack Suggestion: If the beans are fresh-picked just barely visible in the pod and still young, you can leave out the cooking part, and snack on the creamy textured, nutty-flavored borlottis simply adding olive oil and sea salt. If you’ve brought home dried beans, soak those 3 to 8 hours at room temperature or place them in a saucepan covered with water and bring to a boil, remove from the heat, and soak for 1½ hours before cooking.

How to Choose: Select fresh borlotti beans in full, brightly colored pods.

How to Shell: Split open the curved inside seam of the pod with your thumb and remove the beans.

How to Store: Fresh borlotti beans can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week. To freeze borlotti beans, blanch briefly in boiling water, drain, and freeze in a zip-top plastic bag.

Substitute. Tongues of fire, cannellini, and pinto beans can stand in for borlotti beans.

About Borlotti Beans

Cranberry shelling beans
Cranberry shelling beans

The borlotti bean is an oval to round, ivory and dark red to brown speckled and blotched bean. It comes in a pod very similar, streaked ivory and dark red. The beans and pods are just about the same size as a large string bean. Inside, the borlotti is cream-colored. Its flavor compares to the chestnut. Borlottis are shell beans; you don’t eat the pods.

Cooked borlottis are tender and moist. They are native to South America but came to Tuscany and northern Italy long ago and have long been a favorite in Italy and Spain. In Italian cookery, the borlotti is used often in bean and pasta soup, know as pasta e fagioli. The borlotti can be added to stews or combined with other vegetables as a side dish.

Enjoy the borlotti fresh in summer and dried year-round. Its timing is perfect; the borlotti is ready for picking in summer just as the string bean harvest slows.

In the United States, you are most likely to find the borlotti called cranberry bean. It is also called crab eye bean, Fagiolo Romano, Roman Rosecoco Saluggia, and Salugia bean. The borlotti is related to the tongues of fire bean which is similar in appearance, perhaps more vibrant yet.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.


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    • If the beans in the pod are barely showing, you can eat the pod. Once the beans are ripe and you can see the outline of the bean through the pod, the pod will be too tough to eat.

  1. Are Borlotti beans still cream when you harvest them or do you wait until they are speckled pink before you harvest? Thanks.

    • Yes, you can dry cranberry beans. You can dry them on the kitchen counter. They might dry more quickly on a warm porch. The spot should be warm and airy. Spread the beans out flat across a tray or screen to dry.

  2. Borlotti beans are beautiful (and so easy to grow!) I usually let my borlotti beans dry on the vine: wait until everything’s gone pale brown – even the pods will lose their vibrancy – and you can hear the beans rattling inside. Then harvest all the pods and remove all those shiny pink beans, all dried and ready for storage.

  3. I left all my pods on the vine until they’d dried and a couple of the pods contained black beans? Is there anything wrong with them or can I still use them? They feel exactly the same, they’re just black instead of white with red speckles.

    • If the pods or the interiors look like they have been infected with a fungal or bacterial disease do not use the beans. It’s best to not use any beans that outside the norm.

    • One cup of dry beans makes four average servings either in a bean dish or in a soup. After sorting the beans for extraneous materials, soak them in water before cooking to reduce the cooking time by 30 minutes if you plan to simmer them. Soak the beans overnight. Add three times as much water as beans for a bean dish, add five times as much water if making soup. After soaking, cook until tender. For extra flavor add garlic or dried herbs such as sage, thyme, or oregano. Do not add salt until the beans are tender. When the beans are tender, add salt to taste. Add vegetables if you like such as onions, celery, and carrots–saute the vegetables first and add them to the cooked or nearly cooked beans.
      Beans are often cooked with bones or seasoned with pieces of meat.

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