The only thing keeping me going this year is forcing myself to find joy in small things. One small thing that has brought a disproportionate amount of joy, by weight at least, is the corona bean – a large, white legume originating in Italy.
There are tons of corona-branded products because “corona” simply means “crown” in languages from Hungarian to Indonesian. Earlier this year I smiled at finding Ukrainian chocolate brand Korona in the United States and everyone encountered the initial wave of ironic Corona beer drinking. But the corona bean is a gentler, less-corporate embrace of the times.
I stumbled upon corona beans for the first time this summer in an Italian grocery store and knew I had to have them. A $4 jar of beans felt a little steep, but the search for novelty in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic forces one to try new things a little closer to home.
Then I tasted them, and I had to have more.
Beans are generally the perfect food for a year of pandemic, protest and natural disasters. They’re affordable, they can be stored for quite a while and they’re easy to cook. Once you have a pot of cooked beans, you can eat it for a week without the concerns that might accompany a pot of beef or whatever, freeing your mind to worry about the state of the planet and the health of your loved ones instead of what you’ll cook tomorrow.
So why hunt for corona beans instead of just buying a few cans of cheap cannellini beans at Kroger?
Honestly, all of the reasons above mean those cannellinis are good enough, and you’d be pretty content. But corona beans are joyful! The hunt is the beginning of the joy — who doesn’t like a quest? And then you pay $7.99 for a pound of beans and it’s the most luxurious thing you’ve done for yourself in months and it’s also aggressively practical — a luxury item that also contains high levels of protein, fiber, and various minerals and vitamins. Why buy anything else with the $20 a week you’ve saved from no longer going to bars?
The best part though, assuming you bought them dry: they double or triple in size as they cook, the adult version of those toys you leave in water overnight that grow into weirdly-textured dinosaurs. Cooked corona beans are huge! It’s great.
In the absence of opportunities for congregation, you can put three on a toothpick and serve them to yourself at a cocktail party for one. They’re big enough that you could take bites out of them, though that might be a step too far. I have never seen a bigger bean, and seeing these delights me. They also taste good, for those of you who care about such things: The skin is a little thicker than a typical bean, lending them an almost meaty chew. They’re big enough to have a noticeably creamy interior.
As far as preparation goes, white beans are a blank canvas but well-complemented by other ingredients popular in the Mediterranean homeland of the corona bean. I used them in a fantastic Basque potato-bean soup with olives that was nonetheless kind of a waste of their aesthetic appeal, since it was blended. I prefer to leave them whole for maximum sensory experience — stewed with leftover fennel scraps and fried Spanish chorizo on top or in a broth with whatever else you have on hand. If you add some garlic and onion, hardy herbs like thyme, rosemary or bay leaves, a full layer of olive oil on top and some salt, they’ll be delicious.
Come dinner time, put the phone down even if you’re eating alone. Focus, eat them one at a time with a piece of crusty bread for the juices, luxuriate in the wonders of selective breeding and choices made by the bean-growers of yore. Thank me later, or better — bring me more beans.
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