In the markets across Donosti, nestled next to watercress and big, earthy hongos, are fresh beans, both plumper and somehow happier-looking then the beans I was accustomed to. They are poured into generic plastic bags, then topped with a tomato and a few green peppers and tied off for sale.
Huh? Confusion. Was this the Basque version of 'buy one get one free'? Seems like a silly theory, which is actually an argument in its favor. I decided to ask one of the vendors, a kindly old farmer lady, and she said, 'oh, they're pochas'.
Pochas are beans that are harvested before they are completely mature. Some of them will be green-hued, which is just proof that they are fresh and young. Of course, I didn't know this, and even if I had it would have meant nothing. So I tried to press her: why do these beans come in a bag like this, what do you do with everything, etc. My confusion only seemed to confuse her...like someone who can't really speak English asking you 'so WHY does the hamburger come with french fries?' It's so duh that you don't even understand the question.
Well, finally I got out of her that it's a simple dish called 'pochas viudas'...really more of a manner of preparation than a dish. 'The Spanish word 'pocha' is a synonym for pallid, and 'viuda' means widow. All this to say that these pale-colored, fresh beans are cooked in solitude, with not much more than what comes in their plastic bag.
Any good cook will rehydrate dried beans with some mirepoix (carrots, onions, celery, etc), but these fresher beans are done with just tomatoes, green peppers (fresh guindillas or padrones), and olive oil. The result is....DELICIOUS. And simple. I really like the added flavor that a tomato gives to cooked beans-this was a novelty for me. I like pale widow beans.
- a kilo bag of white beans (pochas de navarra o gipuzkoa if possible)
- a tomato, cut into wedges
- a handful of small mild green peppers (guindillas or padrones)
- several tbsps of olive oil
Heat olive oil over med. high heat. Add tomatoes and peppers and allow to cook a minute, even blister a little bit on the sides. Add beans, water to cover plus a couple inches, and a few good tablespoons of salt. Allow to cook over medium heat, simmering softly, until beans are completely tender and liquid is thick.