On Cranberry Beans, or Borlotti: Rick writes, "My wife and I recently sampled some light brown beans from a grocery/deli case in Firenze. They were soft and delightful, but not sweet.... We didn't have to shell them; we ate them from a tub. They seemed to have oil, and mild seasonings. We were told they were a regional specialty, but I have no idea what they were called. I'd love to be able to make them here. Can you help?"
In Tuscany these delightfully flavorful beans, which are ivory with dark red/brown speckles when freshly shelled, and light brown when cooked, are known as borlotti. They are also available in the US -- primarily as cranberry beans, though I once saw a tub of them in a farmers' market in Vermont, where they were labeled "French Horticultural Beans" (?). If you cannot find them fresh in a farmers' market check your local health food stores and other people who sell dried legumes (a large percentage of the dried borlotti sold in Italy are cranberry beans form the US).
Once you've got them soak them overnight if they're dry, or put them directly into water to cover by an inch or two if fresh. Add a couple of cloves of garlic, some pepper corns, a few leaves of fresh sage, and simmer them until they're tender, salting towards the end. Don't cook them till they begin to fall apart. Served cool, drizzled with olive oil, they're an excellent side dish, and if you serve them with canned tuna you'll have a first-rate warm weather meal.