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Fabes con Almejas
(Spanish Beans with Clams)  
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By Charlie Burke

One of the more interesting aspects of travel is being exposed to unusual, if not
strange, combinations of food. We have found that there is a reason for these
unlikely combinations: they have evolved through time so they work. In this
recipe, dried beans are slowly cooked and then combined with Spanish flavors
and freshly cooked clams to form a uniquely delicious dish from
Asturias on the northern coast of Spain.

Our Discovery of This Dish

We visited the exciting northern Spanish city, Barcelona, where Joanne lived
while her father was stationed there in the Navy, but, as always, most of our
vacation was to be spent traveling through small towns.

We left for the Rioja and then traveled west along Spain’s Atlantic northern
coast toward Galicia which, like Brittany in France, has a surprising Celtic past.
This coast of Spain is less traveled and has sharply defined regions where
customs and even language differ between neighbors.

This is true of Asturias, one of the original kingdoms of Spain, a small
mountain region with a rugged coast and great scenery. We stopped in Lastres,
a picturesque fishing port, and were welcomed into a hotel which had opened
that day for the spring season. Our genial host led us onto the balcony of our
room and gave us a bottle of the region’s sparkling cider.

As we watched the ocean in the dusk we could intermittently see the lights of
distant cars growing closer as they wound their way along the coastal highway,
finally emerging as they roared up the hill at the corner of our hotel. We
decided it was a special place and booked a second night.

While exploring the town, we met a friendly gentleman in chef’s whites. He ran
a restaurant nearby and informed us he would begin serving at one o’clock. We
made a reservation for then and resumed our wandering, only to lose track of
time. When we arrived at nearly two o’clock, we saw expensive cars with
Madrid and Barcelona license plates, and the restaurant was full!

We had stumbled upon a famous destination restaurant which Spaniards
considered worth driving more than two hours. Our corner table, however, was
unoccupied, except for the shiny brass plate reserving it, and the humble chef
assigned his son to help us with the unfamiliar fare.

We shared a first course of briny squid ink pasta and cuttlefish, and Joanne had
seafood paella, made with saffron pasta instead of rice. The “most typical”
plate, though, was Fabes con Almejas, which our host convinced me was not to
be missed, and it remains one of my most memorable meals. It is peasant fare,
to be sure, and easy to make, but with a subtle blend of flavors from humble
ingredients this dish surpasses many complicated and expensive preparations.

Recipe

In Asturias, large lima type beans and small clams are used in its preparation,
but, like many southern European recipes, it adapts seamlessly to New
England ingredients: in this case dried New Hampshire pinto beans and New
England farm raised littleneck clams

Beans
                                                                                        
Four generous portions:

1 pound dried beans, such as pinto, navy or lima, rinsed and soaked overnight
or boiled as below
1 medium onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
2 teaspoons sea or kosher salt

Rinse and soak the beans overnight or cover with water and bring to a boil for
15 minutes and then remove from heat and soak for 15 minutes. Drain the
beans and place all ingredients except the salt into a pot and add water to
cover by 1 ½ inches.

Bring the beans to a boil and then reduce the heat so that they just simmer.
Skim off any foam. Cook them, loosely covered, until done, 1 – 2 hours,
checking occasionally to add water if necessary. Add the salt and set the beans
aside.

Clams:

24 littleneck or mahogany clams, rinsed and soaked in heavily salted water for
1 hour
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Generous pinch of saffron
1 tablespoon Spanish paprika (not smoked)
¼ cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup dry white win
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
Sea or kosher salt, as needed

Heat a large heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, and,
when the oil shimmers, add the onion, garlic and pepper flakes. Stir until the
onions are soft but not browned. Add the clams, cover the pan and cook,
shaking the pan occasionally until the clams are opened. If smaller clams open
soon, remove them and set them aside.

When all clams are opened, return any previously removed. Spread the
paprika and parsley over the clams, add the saffron to the wine and add to the
pan, along with several grinds of black pepper. Cover and cook for five
minutes.

Reheat the beans in a large sauté or frying pan while the clams finish.

Pour the clams and all juices and contents over the beans and stir the juices
into the beans. Serve with the clams on top of the beans.

Traditionally, this is served with crusty bread and a full bodied white wine.

Fabes con Almejas is an ideal main course for entertaining. The simple bean
preparation can be done a day or two ahead, and the clams cook in no more
than fifteen minutes. Brought to table in a large serving vessel, it makes a
dramatic presentation. Add a green salad, and it is a complete meal. Ask your
wine merchant to recommend a good Spanish wine and experience an
authentic and economical taste of northern Spain.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at
Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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