San Francisco’s Ferry Building Market: Where I Learned Everything I Know About Beans

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I don’t get to San Francisco as much as I’d like to.  I know, who among us does?  But no matter how much or how little time I’ve got, I make it over to the Ferry Building Marketplace.  It’s paradise for food lovers!  The outdoor farmers market is terrific and the indoor stands are like a who’s who of California food.  And the view is spectacular.

I have too many favorites there to name all of them, but there’s

Cowgirl Creamery, if I could bottle the aroma, I would
Miette Bakery, where everything’s beautiful
Ricchiuti Confections, sigh, chocolate, sigh
Frog Hollow Farm, for fruit that tastes pure and deeply, deeply delicious – good dried fruit, too
Blue Bottle Coffee, because no one is fueled by cheese, chocolate and pastry alone
Boulette’s Larder, the most civilized place for a sweet (or savory) stop – try the cannellés
Book Passage, the book store I’d like to have on my corner
Humphry Slocombe, ice cream!
Heath Ceramics, to swoon over


Rancho Gordo

With all the great places that San Francisco has, you wouldn’t think that one of my must-gos would be a bean shop.  But Rancho Gordo isn’t any old beanery.  It’s where the best chefs source their beans, quinoa, lentils, dried corn, hominy – the list goes on.  It’s one of the few things I know of that the French Laundry chef, Thomas Keller and I  have in common – Rancho Gordo is his go-to for this stuff.

If you’re like me, you might not have given much thought to beans.  You might have been content to buy dried beans in the supermarket and/or to use canned beans.  You might not have thought that dried beans were different from one producer to another.  But then you, like (earlier) me, hadn’t had Rancho Gordo beans.

One pot of homemade RG chickpeas made me a convert.  And while I still keep cans of beans in the house – of course I do! – I take the time to make beans.  I make a pound at a time and freeze what I’m not going to use within a few days.  Cooking beans gives you a bonus – soup!  The bean broth is great.

I cook the beans following the Rancho Gordo method – I usually sauté onions, garlic, carrots, celery and toss in some herbs before adding the water; sometimes I’ll add a bouillon cube or two – and I’ll never cook them any other way.  It’s perfect.

And here’s a tip: If you’ve got a pasta cooker – a big stock pot with a perforated insert – use it.  Sauté the vegetables in the bottom of the pot and then, when you’re ready to add the liquid, put the beans in the insert, add the water and cook.  When it comes times to remove the beans, they’ll be nice and ‘clean’ – no stuck on bits of onion or herbs.

Now about the picture – it’s just a small part of the stash I stocked up on when I was last at the shop.  I bought 30 pounds of beans, some for me and lots for giving to cooking-friends.  You’d be surprised at how many of my friends were happier to get a bag o’beans than a bouquet of flowers as a dinner-party gift.

Part of the reason I bought so much – apart from the fact that I wanted so much – is because Rancho Gordo has a great shipping policy: One pound or one thousand, all the same price – $12!

For great bean recipes, take a look at Heidi Swanson’s gorgeous site, 101 Cookbooks.