There are an awful lot of things to like about San Francisco in the early Fall. Here in the Bay Area, it’s the beginning of our Indian Summer, and usually the best time of the year. September and October are actually our warmest months, so when much of the country is zipping up their coats and getting ready for Winter, here in SF we’re breaking out the sunblock.

Naturally it’s also a bountiful season, making Fall a terrific time for the farmers market. Nearly everything is available right now: stone fruit, avocados, figs, tomatoes, basil––you name it.

I’m a farmers market fanatic, and anyone who knows me can tell you that I cook at home constantly. Last weekend I hit the Saturday market at the Ferry Building, and as is my custom, left with quite a haul. Among the spoils were a batch of perfectly ripe green figs, and what are probably the best blackberries I’ve ever eaten.

But my ultimate score was in the legume category: fresh Italian butter beans, a longtime favorite. I get mine from Iacopi Farms, which has hosted a booth at the Ferry Building market forever. A third generation farm in Half Moon Bay, Iacopi is famous for their beans, and they offer fresh cranberry, Romano and blue lake beans, along with several dried varieties. They’ve also got perfect sugar snap peas, and probably the best Brussels sprouts anywhere.

Iacopi Farms @

Louis Iacopi, owner of Iacopi Farms, at his stand at Saturday’s Ferry Building farmers market. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Butter beans have been in season for well over a month now, and will be for at least a couple more weeks. If you’re unfamiliar with shelling beans, they come in a pod (the way all beans grow) and must be shelled before cooking. Unlike 99% of beans they’re never dried, so they are sweeter and far creamier, and cook more quickly than the dried version.

The recipe below is the fruit of decades of on-again, off-again experimentation. It marries the Mediterranean flavors of my Italian upbringing with tropical influences I picked up working (and eating) in Miami’s Little Havana. Keep firmly in mind, this is just one of many ways to make these beans. If you don’t have cilantro, you can throw in a couple of bay leaves instead, and get a perfectly admirable result. This just happens to be the recipe I’m making right now––and it’s also absolutely delicious.

The humble glory of fresh Italian butter beans, pre-shelling. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Another thing to remember: though it’s best with fresh beans, the recipe works equally well for dried. For flavor’s sake, you should stick with heirloom varieties and avoid supermarket beans, which can be literally years old. And for conversion purposes, two pounds of shelling beans comes out to roughly one pound of dried.

Fagioli Latini

  • 2 pounds of fresh butter or cranberry beans, shelled and rinsed
  • 2/3 of a medium-large yellow onion
  • 8 small, or 4-5 large cloves of garlic
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped (see instructions below*)
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp red or white wine (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tbsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 small dried chile (chile de Arbol preferred–available at any latin grocer & most good markets)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste

Place a big pot of water on for the beans. While waiting for it to come to a boil, chop the onions, garlic and herbs finely, and set aside. 

Once boiling, add 1-1/2 tbsp salt to the water, and add the beans. Boil on medium high for the first 10 minutes, then reduce heat to low.

Heat olive oil in a pan large enough to accommodate all ingredients easily. Then add onion, garlic, and a dash of salt and pepper. Sauté on very low heat for 10-12 minutes, stirring often, until onion is completely softened and beginning to slightly darken in color. Do NOT brown.

Shelled butter beans, plump and snow white: the very best. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Add chopped tomatoes along with their liquid, and 1/2 tsp of sea salt. Mix with onion-garlic mixture, then add 1/2 cup of water a little at a time while increasing heat slightly (to avoid cooling the pan and stopping the cooking process). Once a low boil resumes, bring heat back down to low and simmer for another 10-12 minutes.

Taste for salt. Add herbs, wine, vinegar, cumin, turmeric, oregano, dried chile and remainder of pepper. Cook on low for 12-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on the beans, and set a timer. They should be cooked within 20-35 minutes; taste a couple and make sure they are soft. Save 2-1/2 cups of the bean water, and drain the rest. Once the above steps are complete, immediately add the remaining water along with the beans directly to the pan. 

Cook for 30 minutes on very low heat with cover slightly on. Watch them closely. Taste once again for salt, and serve. Or for even better results, let them cool, stick them in the fridge for 24-48 hours, then reheat. They’re always better the next day, once the flavors have had a chance to meld.

If you like, you can finish with a few thin slices of raw onion and a spoonful of olive oil on top of each bowl. Like all beans, these are also great over rice. Enjoy!



*Take a clean, dry tomato and pierce it through the head with a fork. Light a gas burner, and hold the tomato 1-2 inches above the flame, turning slowly, until the skin wrinkles and begins to crack. Make sure to rotate the fork to get heat on the entire surface of the tomato. 
As an alternative, you can blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30-60 seconds. In either case, leave the tomatoes on a plate to cool for a few minutes before peeling. If you’ve done it right, they should be easy to peel. Be sure to remove all hard, white areas of the tomato, along with the head. For this recipe, seeds are okay.


Iacopi Farms
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019