This recipe was adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables, by Alice Waters. This one is made with sage, but you can also use marjoram, oregano, basil, or rosemary. This version doesn't call for any spice, but try adding a good pinch of hot pepper, or get out the preserved peppers and pass them at the table.
-Shell 1.5 pounds shell beans. You should end up with about 1.5 to 2 cups shelled beans.
-Rinse the beans in cold water and put them in a medium saucepan with water to cover by about 1 inch.
-Bring the water to a boil, skimming off any foam that floats to the surface and add 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil.
-Reduce the heat and gently simmer the beans, stirring occasionally, until tender, 15 to 30 minutes.
-If the beans start to peek through the liquid during the cooking process, add a splash more water.
-Remove from the heat and season the bean liquid with 1/2 tsp sea salt, the beans will absorb the salt gradually. Set the beans aside to cool in the cooking liquid.
-Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
-Make an X through the skin of 2 tomatoes, then cover with boiling water.
-Let the tomatoes sit for 4 minutes, then drain and peel under cold running water.
-Roughly chop the tomatoes then set aside.
To make breadcrumbs:
-Put 2 slices of bread in a food processor and whirl until finely chopped. You can also chop by hand.
-Put 1 TBS butter or olive oil in a large skillet and cook stirring often until lightly toasted. Set aside.
-Chop up the following into small dice:
1 head fennel or 4 stalks celery
-Warm a medium sauté pan over medium heat and add 2 TBS of extra virgin olive oil and the onion and fennel/celery.
-Season with sea salt and cook until the onion is tender, about 6 minutes.
-Finely chop 3 cloves of garlic and 3 fresh sage leaves or 2 rosemary sprigs.
-Add the garlic and sage and sauté just until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.
-Add the tomatoes, season again with more sea salt and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes, until the tomatoes are softened.
-Drain the cooled beans, reserving the liquid.
-Combine the beans in a gratin dish with the onion, fennel/celery and tomato mixture and stir to combine.
-Add enough of the bean-cooking water to almost cover. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, if necessary.
-Combine the bread crumbs with 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle them over the beans in an even layer.
-Bake until the juices are bubbling at the edges and the bread crumbs are evenly browned, about 45 minutes.