Flageolet Soup with Crème Fraiche, Tarragon and Mustard

After getting back from California we wanted to catch our breath with a simple dish that wouldn’t require a lot of effort.  If it went with the the crazy New England weather this week, warm or cold, all the better.  Herewith Flageolet Soup with Crème Fraiche, Tarragon and Mustard.

Flageolets (fla-as in flag-zhay-oh-lay) are a small, delicate bean, usually (but not always, as you can see in the photos) an alluring pale green.  If you examine them closely they’re covered with faint green stripes.  They’re removed from the pod before reaching full maturity, which contributes to their delicate flavor.  My first encounter with them was an impulse purchase – how could I not buy a package of beans the color of young grasshoppers?  All I did was prepare them with a bit of carrot and onion and olive oil.  I wasn’t disappointed.

The French love them with cream, baked in gratins, and in various preparations with tomatoes.  They’re considered a traditional accompaniment to leg of lamb.  But in a more humble kitchen they make a fine soup as well.

When I began marshaling my facts for this intro I wondered if there might not be a remarkable connection between the flageolet bean and the French woodwind, also called a flageolet.  Perhaps the bean and the flute hailed from the same tiny hamlet, an alpine village peopled with artisan farmers who passed their long dark winters fashioning musical instruments.

Alas, there IS a complicated etymological connection between the bean and the flute, whose twists I won’t explore here, except to note that both items share a Latin heritage in a word meaning “to blow.”  The connection involves several morphings, but if you know the children’s ditty that begins, Beans, beans, the delicious fruit…  you’ll know where it all ends up.

So much for romance.  Happy Spring.  Ken

Flageolet Soup with Crème Fraiche, Tarragon and Mustard

Makes 4 1-cup servings

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. dried flageolet beans (or great northern white beans if you can’t get flageolets)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces diced smoked bacon
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch dice
  • 1 celery stalk, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch dice (Save the leaves for use in the chiffonade below.)
  • 1 small onion, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch dice
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped tomatoes
  • ½ cup crème fraiche
  • 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
  • 1-2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon, depending on your taste
  • 1 tablespoon celery leaf chiffonade (leaves cut into very thin strips)

Directions:

  1. Spread the flageolets out in single layer on a large tray and pick out any debris–stones, dirt, bad beans, etc.
  2. Rinse beans, put in bowl, cover with one inch of water and soak overnight.
  3. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook 2 minutes.  Add the carrot, celery and onion, reduce the heat to low and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.
  4. Drain and rinse the beans and add them to the pot, along with the bay leaves, the chicken stock and enough water to cover by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently until the beans are almost tender, about an 1 hour.  You may have to add a little water now and then to keep it at a consistent level.  Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and cook 30 minutes more.  Take care with the salt.  If you are using salted bacon, you may not need any more salt.
  5. Mix the crème fraiche with the mustard and tarragon and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Serve the soup in warm bowls with a dollop of the crème fraiche mixture topped with celery leaves.

Before and after soaking.

Jody Notes:

I first started using flageolet beans one spring in the early 1980’s.  I was working at a gourmet food store inspired by Dean and Deluca and many of our products had D&D labels.  The flageolet were flawless.  Like Good & Plenty candy colored pastel green.  Very French.

I got all excited about making this soup, adding a French angle (crème fraiche, tarragon and mustard) and celebrating the arrival of spring.  Then I hit a snag–we had a hard time finding flageolets, and when we did finally track some down the beans were uneven in size and color.  I was disappointed and concerned that we would have to report that they didn’t work.  Fortunately they did cook fairly evenly, and the soup was delicious.  Just not as pretty as I had hoped.  If you want a creamier texture, use an immersion blender to puree part or all of the soup. 

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31 thoughts

    • Hi, Ellen. Sorry not have responded sooner. We bought Rancho Gordo flageolets in a local gourmet emporium called Formaggio. Those were were the only off-the-shelf ones we could find. If you scroll up, you’ll find a raft of other options available online. Thanks for stopping by. Ken

    • You can (on our first batch we swirled the crème fraiche into the leftovers–it adds a pleasantly tart element). But my personal preference is to keep the soup and garnish in the separate regions, getting a bit of each in the same spoonful. Like eating a soft-boiled egg in steel-cut oats–you don’t want the molten yolk to simply disappear in the mix–you want to taste it and the other stuff together. Thanks for the kind words. Ken

  1. I love flageolets and your photos are beautiful as always. What surprised me here was the topping—I can’t wait to try grainy mustard and celery leaves in crème fraiche!

    • Thanks! I already knew about the grainy mustard–the celery leaves were the surprise. Incidentally, the chiffonade of the leaves is joy to photograph–unlike many other chopped fresh herbs they don’t turn black around the edges as you’re trying to get the shot. Ken

  2. I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but not only have I never cooked flageolet, I’ve never seen them up close. Their pastel hue sings springtime to me.

    One question about the recipe: I know everyone says everything tastes better with bacon, but is it definitely necessary for this soup?

    • Bacon is never ABSOLUTELY necessary (well, okay, bacon and eggs). But it’s common in French and Italian technique to start with a little pork something or other. Don’t use it if you don’t want to. The soup will be slightly different, but that’s all. Flageolets are definiteley worth a try–especially if you see an all-green package. Ken

  3. I had my first encounter with flageolet beans last summer straight from a friend’s garden. But I don’t know if I can wait months to try this soup. What kind of tomato?? Also, I have been very disappointed with the crème fraiche I get at the grocery story (it says it’s from Vermont). It just doesn’t taste like the crème fraiche I used when I lived in Europe years ago. Someone told me that it has something to do with pasteurization. Is that true?

    • Make sure you keep that friend! You’re right about crème fraiche – it DOESN’T taste like what you had in Europe. But then again neither does butter, which is often mildly fermented on the other side of the Atlantic. I think it has to do with a lot of different things – the diet of the cows, quality of the milk, AND pasteurization. Some years back I tried making my own CF, but never had much luck. (2 tbs of buttermilk stirred into a cup of whipping cream, let stand at room temp – 70 degrees 8 – 24 hours, refrigerate up to two weeks.). People do make it successfully, but mine never thickened as much as I’d like. Eventually I figured out that most whipping cream is ultrapasteurized, although some people claim to have had success with that. If you go here: http://smittenkitchen.com/tips/make-your-own-creme-fraiche/ you can find a Smitten Kitchen thread on making your own. Good luck. Keep me posted on whether yours works. Ken

  4. This made me realize I haven’t had flageolets in a while–I too love the gentle green color. I had them first when my mother in law hunted them down in DC (though she didn’t have to go to D & D in the end) for a special lamb dish. This is a nice way to use the cream–just a bit for the finish instead of heavily laden with it–with a far fresher taste overall.

  5. That sound delicious! (And maybe a bit easier on the waistline as well.) We bought Rancho Gordo flageolets from the Cambridge Formaggio. But you can buy in LOTS of different places online — Rancho Gordo, Bob’s Red Mill, igourmet.com, etc. I’m going to give Bob’s Red Mill a shot next time, just to see what they’re like. Ken

  6. Do you guys know about Rancho Gordo beans, a fantastic source for all kinds of heirloom varieties. They are based in Napa (and sell directly at the San Francisco farmer’s market) but you can also order from their website (www.ranchogordo.com). You’ll never have to hunt for reliable flageolets again.

    • We used Rancho Gordo beans in this post. (See the message above.) We’ve used a lot of their beans in the past–and we like them! (I’ll often order a half-dozen different kinds at a time.) We were just a bit disappointed in the color of these–not the uniform delicate green we’d hoped for.

      Actually I’d forgotten they were in Napa. Had I known I might have stopped by when we were in the area last week. Ken

  7. I’ll bet Ariane d’Aquin has them. i order lots of stuff from D’artangian in NY: Her Cassoluet package is great: Tarbais beans,duck confit, guanciale..
    this recipe will be wonderful for adding BEANS to my new diet. I will go lightly on the Tarragon, but this with a big hunk of Fresh bread….!Fabulous.
    Sharyn

  8. Good suggestion, but I’m afraid d’Artagnan doesn’t carry many beans at all–or at least not through their website. Their bean recipe guy is Steve Sando, the founder of Rancho Gordo. What did you think about their Tarbais beans? They look really good. Ken

  9. You can get beautiful, locally grown flageolet from Baer’s Best Beans, South Hamilton, MA. You can find them at Wilson’s Farm in Lexington, and Idylewild in West Acton, and no doubt other fancy food places as well. Find Baer’s Best Beans on Facebook for more information.

    This is the first time I have visited this site, following a link to it from Rialto. It looks great!

    Best regards,

  10. The only way I’ve ever cooked with flageolets were as part of a cassoulet, that will have to change soon. Love all the flavors you have working here, and the tarragon cream…..puhleez.

  11. Pingback: Flageolet recipe | Myneighborhocl

  12. I am a total soupaholic and love flageolet beans so can’t wait to try out this recipe. I like the combination of the mustard and tarragon as well. Mmmm it’s making me feel hungry. Amazing photos as always. Best Torie

  13. I could really do with a bowl of this soup right now, autumn has come and this is just the type of recipe I need. I love the photos. I have just started Blogging and I am really enjoying checking yours out. Thank you.
    what kind of camera do you use for your photography?

    • Autumn? Oh, right, you’re on the opposite side of the world! (Digression: I’m reading a great, deeply creepy novel called THE PRICE OF AN ORPHAN by Australian writer Patrica Carlson.)

      Photography. I started with a Canon 7D, a fabulous camera both for stills and video. I recently upgraded to a Canon 5D Mark II when someone offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse. I had intended to sell the 7D, but I’ve since discovered that it makes blogging/shooting days go much smoother if I set the 5D up for the natural light shots (ingredients, finished dishes) and the 7D with a flash, so as soon as Jody starts cooking we can rock and roll. These are both relatively expensive cameras and you can get fine photographs with much more modest equipment. The only reason I can include so many photos in the blog–aside from the fact that I love doing it–is because there are TWO of us. I am always deeply impressed at people who blog about cooking and who also take their own photographs. Good luck. Ken

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