Tag Archives: beans and legumes

a bowl of beans


There may be more written about Italian food than any other cuisine on earth. For this reason it is intimidating to write about one’s food experiences in Italy. Nonetheless, I just returned from Rome and also a village in Perugia called Montefalco, and about this I must write.

fennel scraps

One of our first meals in Rome wasn’t even in Rome. It was at the cafeteria at Ostia Antica, on a Sunday at noon, when we were suddenly ravening and miles away from anything else to eat. Ostia Antica is an abandoned Roman port city right outside of Rome. Unearthed in the late 19th century, it is hauntingly beautiful, elegant, and organized. So different from the hot chaos of the Roman streets, here weeds grew quietly up between the ancient paving stones, and ancient tablets marked graves and directions. The city had been immense, Rome’s first colony, when it found it needed a port. Imagine the chaos of boats, bringing hundreds of African animals each day, bound for death in the Colosseum. Other boats carried wheat from Egypt, and slaves. People lived on top of people. You can see the remains of enormous apartment buildings. At several points I thought, just the trash from the amount of food consumed in the city itself—it must have been daunting.

The place was more or less devoid of tourists, except for a gaggle of German high-schoolers who were clearly Latin students traveling with their teachers. It was a brilliantly sunny, cloudless April day, and hunger struck us quickly. As miserable as cafeterias at a tourist site can be, we dutifully trouped in to find something to eat. The format was tavola calda, meaning there were dishes piled with warm items to one side, and dishes piled with cold items to another. The food looked good.


I selected a number of salads, including one of borlotti beans: celery, celery leaves, carrots, all doused in olive oil, perfectly salted. We sat outside in the chilly sunshine with our dishes, scooping up bites of frittata, or cheese, or beans. Clearly, I thought, there is a conjurer in the kitchen, cooking up an insurrection in this a cafeteria.

Every meal was wonderful, even sandwiches from a cart in the park. Eventually we did find a real conjurer, at an enoteca in Montefalco called l’Alchimista. It is almost tragic that this restaurant is so hard to find, perched in this little town made entirely of rock. It is absurd how good it is to consume the layers of crepes, besciamella, and mushrooms they call “lasagne,” and it is almost silly how you begin to covet each remaining bite of grilled quail, or beef.

giant meringues indeed

Since I returned, I’ve begun to replicate my favorites modestly, beginning with that bean salad. I cook a pound of Rancho Gordo borlottis, or Ojo de Cabra, or cranberry beans at the beginning of the week. Then each night I scoop some out and make a new salad. Cafeteria food.

A bowl of beans

  • 3 cups drained and rinsed cooked or canned beans (Borlottis, cranberry beans, or Ojo de Cabra work well)
  • 1 carrot, peeled and then sliced thinly with a mandoline or vegetable peeler
  • 1 stalk celery, strings removed, finely chopped, leaves included
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley (if you have it)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt (much less if using table salt)
  • freshly cracked pepper

1. Select a bowl that will hold all of the ingredients. Mix together all ingredients except for salt and pepper. Mix well. Taste and add fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt, and cracked pepper, as you feel necessary. Finish with another drizzle of olive oil. Serve at room temperature.


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black bean, chorizo + kale soup

close up

Someday I will get organized and do a series of posts on how one pot of beans can feed you for an entire week. If you play your cards right, beans can be an essential part of a sound weeknight meal preparation strategy. Actually, if it is true that dilettantes talk strategy while professionals talk logistics, then having a good supply of perfectly cooked beans on hand is a professional-grade maneuver. Especially in winter when vegetables are in shortly supply, beans augment fresh vegetables—in this case, dark, leafy greens—and can be combined in any number of dishes throughout the week.

kale leaves

I cooked a pound of Rancho Gordo “Midnight Black” beans on a Sunday and we had tacos one night and this soup on another. On a third night I made a bean side dish with onions, garlic, and a few tomatoes. I used some of the ingredients I had around for the tacos—queso fresco, cilantro—to garnish this soup. These beans, and their broth, are out of this world. I wanted to make a soup to use up the bean juice; I couldn’t bear to imagine pouring it down the drain. I like to keep a few cut-up pieces of chorizo in the freezer for scrounge nights when I might have some beans and some other odds and ends around, but I need something to add flavor and protein to the dish. If you did not cook your own black beans, use canned ones, but rinse them first. This means you’ll have to add some extra stock to the pan. The black bean cooking liquid gives the soup a lot more body, however. If you’re using canned beans and extra stock, you may want to run an immersion blender in the soup for a few seconds just to create a little more thickness. Because beans (and also chicken stock, if you’re using store-bought) have wildly varying levels of saltiness, be sure to taste the soup in its final simmer to determine whether you need to add salt to balance it out at the end.

Be careful; this soup comes together super fast. Supper might even be ready before you’re hungry.

bowl of soup

Black bean, chorizo + kale soup

  • 1 link fresh chorizo sausage (1/3 lb)
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 Tb olive oil
  • 1/2 large bunch of lacinato or regular kale (6 ounces), sliced into a chiffonade
  • 3 cups black beans plus 2 cups of their cooking liquid (I use Rancho Gordo “Midnight Black” beans)
  • 1 cup chicken stock (if using canned beans, increase to 2 to 3 cups and rinse and drain beans)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • crumbled queso fresco (optional)
  • chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

1. In your favorite heavy soup pot, crumble the chorizo and cook until browned and no longer pink. Add onion and garlic, and add a little olive oil if needed to saute these with the chorizo. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Add the rest of the olive oil and crushed red pepper, cook for 1 more minute, and add kale. Saute for 3 minutes.

2. Add beans and 3 cups of liquid (either 2 cups of bean cooking liquid, if you cooked your own dried beans, or use 2 additional cups of chicken stock) and salt. Stir and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed. (This depends entirely on whether your beans were already salted.) Dish into warm bowls and garnish as you wish.


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borlotti beans w fennel + tomato

The beans and legumes are having a heyday here in our kitchen, even more than usual. With a recent shipment of beans from Rancho Gordo, we are on a bit of a tear. Borlottis, a type of cranberry bean, are a particular favorite, and if you have just two people in your family, you can cook a one-pound bag on Sunday and eat them all week. In fact, we made this dish with fennel and tomato in the same week that we made this other dish that involved serving the Borlotti beans over bread cubes toasted in olive oil, with just a little frizzled sage on top. They don’t need much adornment to really sing.


Combining the Borlotti beans—you can use any cooked cranberry bean—with a lot of fennel, kale, and tomatoes seems less like a bean dish and more like a winter vegetable dish. For the first time in weeks, I felt like I had eaten vegetables in the way I feel I’ve eaten vegetables in the summer. It feels totally reckless to have so much fresh stuff in the pot, but really these are winter produce staples. The fennel mellows and loses its licorice-y taste, leaving behind a complicated sweetness. The kale is earthy and the tomatoes provide their characteristic acidity, which balances the dish. It is a bonus that if your beans are already cooked, this takes only a few minutes to get to the table.

beans and such

I based this concoction on a recipe in Paula Wolfert’s amazing book, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, which my sister bought me for Christmas. The book is marvelous, and I was enchanted by a recipe for black-eyed peas with fennel and tomatoes that Wolfert said was from Crete. That was enough to sell me on it. A little bit of Crete in my kitchen? In February? Yes, please.

Borlotti beans w fennel + tomato

Adapted from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert

  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 4 to 6 large kale leaves, ribs removed and cut into a fine chiffonnade
  • 3/4 cup plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups cooked Borlotti beans, or other cranberry type bean (about 14 oz)

1. Warm onion, fennel, and olive oil over medium heat. Toss and cook for about 15 minutes, until vegetables are pale gold in color. About halfway through, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and toss to continue cooking.

2. Then add kale and toss for a few moments. Add tomatoes and water and bring to a simmer. Stir and add cooked beans. Simmer for about 15 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Taste for seasoning, and add a bit more salt as needed. Serve warm.

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split pea soup

I was serious when I said frugal was the watchword for January. And maybe February, too. I make no promises.

I read Joan Acocella’s review of two books about St. Francis of Assisi on the train on the way into New York earlier this month. I’m not going to lie: there is something about this guy that really appeals to me.

I don’t think he ate split pea soup, probably. But I think he would say we are on the right trail. Except that split pea soup is so delicious. I can’t understand how, when it only uses water, instead of broth. And split peas, well, they are so homely. But there is something delicious going on here. For me, the key is for the soup not to be too thick and pasty. As it simmers, I add splashes of boiling water as necessary to keep the consistency, well, soupy—instead of pasty. Maybe you like a much thicker split pea soup, so by all means adjust to your tastes, and then think about the possible connection between the frugal and the sublime.

Split pea soup

  • 16 oz dried split peas
  • 7 cups boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 large carrots, trimmed and peeled, sliced
  • 4 stalks celery, trimmed, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp crushed pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1. In a very large bowl, combine split peas and boiling water. Allow to sit and soak for 1 hour.

2. In a large soup pot, combine chopped onion, carrots, celery, and garlic with olive oil. Heat over medium-high heat. When mixture becomes fragrant, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until vegetables are soft and onion is translucent and turning golden, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add crushed red pepper, thyme, and salt. Add soaked split peas and all the soaking water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Bubbles should break the surface of the pot every few seconds. Cook for 1 to 1 and a half hours and then taste to see if peas are cooked and soft, and break up easily. Add a little salt if necessary. If peas aren’t done yet, cook for another 30 minutes or as needed until peas are fully cooked. Throughout the cooking, if the mixture becomes thick instead of soupy, add splashes of boiling water to the pot as needed.

3. When soup is cooked, remove from heat. Use an immersion blender to carefully blend it into a puree. Add a bit of boiling water if soup is too thick. Alternatively you can blend it in batches in a regular blender, being cautious to vent the top slightly, while still allowing no soup to spatter or escape.

4. Serve in heated bowls. If you aren’t feeling as ascetic as St. Francis, serve with these biscuits.

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zuppa lombarda

Beans are an ideal January food.

Frankly, beans are an ideal anytime food, but in January they meet my criteria for health and frugality after a holiday season of extravagant eating.

I found this recipe in of my most treasured cookbooks, Il Libro della Vera Cucina Fiorentina by Paolo Petroni. The book is a Florentine classic, and was given to me by an Italian friend who is also a phenomenal cook. It is in Italian, but my food Italian is okay, and this recipe is so simple that you don’t even need to know Italian to decode it. It contains: beans, olive oil, sage, garlic, and bread. I don’t count the water you need to cook the beans.


The cookbook claims the recipe was misnamed, as the dish does not appear in the Lombardy region at all, but rather may have been popular with immigrants from Lombardy who lived in Florence in the 1800s. I don’t quibble about these things when something is this simple and good. As with most simple dishes, it depends entirely on the quality of the ingredients used, and in this case that means the beans. I used Borlotti beans from Rancho Gordo, and can only recommend that you do the same. The soup in the cookbook is made with fresh shell beans, and I’m sure you could use cranberry, cannelini, or a similar bean. It is essential in any case not to use the canned beans—the broth that develops while cooking dried or fresh beans is essential to the glory of this dish.

I used dried Borlottis that had not been soaked, and just covered the beans with about four inches of water, because I wanted the beans to soak up most of the water, and for the rest to evaporate during cooking. If the water level in your bean pot becomes reduced below the surface of the beans, add splashes of boiling water as necessary until the beans have finished cooking. When finished, you will want beans that are just covered in the nice, rich broth.


The original recipe includes bread that is toasted plain, and the sage is added to the pot with the beans, garlic and olive oil at the beginning of the cooking. I wanted something with a bit more of the sage flavor, and simply fried the chopped sage leaves and added them to the top of each dish of soup. Meanwhile, the bread was cubed and fried until a deep golden color in olive oil and sprinkled with salt before dishing the beans over with their broth and then topping with the sizzled sage. Perhaps a bit rich for the blood of the thrifty Florentines, but nonetheless extraordinary.

Zuppa lombarda

Adapted from Il Libro della Vera Cucina Fiorentina by Paolo Petroni

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 lb dried Borlotti beans or other dried cranberry or white bean
  • water to cover by 4 inches
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 20 or so fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced
  • 3 to 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 to 8 slices of stale ciabatta or other crusty Italian-style bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • sea salt or Maldon salt for finishing

1. Rinse and pick the beans over and add to a large soup pot. Cover with water by about four inches. Pour in the 1/3 cup of olive oil, add the garlic cloves, and set over medium-high heat. Bring the pot to the boil and then reduce to a bare simmer. Cook until the beans are tender (taste at least a dozen or so beans to make sure they are all tender), about 2 and 1/2 hours in my case. After about an hour of simmering, you can add he 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt.

2. When beans are cooked through, prepare the rest of the components. Warm the 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until quite hot. Add cubed bread to the hot oil, without crowding the bread cubes. When first side is golden brown, turn the bread and toast another side of the cube. This can be done in batches, adding more olive oil between batches as needed. When a batch of cubes are browned, place them in the warmed soup bowls, distributing evenly among the bowls. Each bowl needs the cubes from just 1 slice of bread. Sprinkle the browned bread cubes with a pinch or two of Maldon or sea salt.

3. When bread cubes are browned and in the soup bowls, warm a tablespoon or two more olive oil in your skillet. Add the sliced sage leaves and cook until fragrant and beginning to crisp. Turn off heat and sprinkle with a few pinches of Maldon or sea salt.

4. Assemble the soup. Ladle beans and some broth over the cubed bread. Sprinkle with some of the fried sage and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.


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ham, bean + cabbage soup

With a hurricane bearing down on the northeast, something strange happened. It would seem that I am genetically programmed to cook ceaselessly—like, everything in the refrigerator—when a storm is approaching. Apples were turned into a crumble, and also added to a slow-cooked pork loin roast with onions. Bits and bobs of cheese (four totally random kinds that had accumulated in the drawer) went into a big dish of macaroni and cheese. A container of leftover ham, the odd turnip, potato, carrots, celery, and beans was clearly the base for a soup. Hurricane soup! What could be more appropriate with a weird hybrid storm approaching? Soup is called for in this situation. Soup is part of the emergency planning scenario. The thinking was that even if the power goes out, we can use the gas stove to heat up the soup. And the longer the soup sits around, the better it tastes.

I’m not going to lie and say that this soup is terribly gorgeous. It is fairly unattractive. But, hey, any port in a storm, right? It is delicious, and filling, and flexible. You can add or subtract from the amount of carrots, turnips, cabbage, and potatoes I used. You could substitute other root vegetables, or swap in kale for the cabbage. Heck, you could substitute a few slices of smoked bacon in place of the ham. The soup won’t mind. It just gets better and better. If you still have power, and a gas stove so you can keep cooking if the power goes out, start a pot of soup. It’s time to get serious about storm preparation. Good luck to everyone on the East Coast, and I’ll see you on the other side of Sandy.

Ham, bean + cabbage soup

Makes 8 large bowls of soup

  • 2 small or 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 5 carrots, peeled and cut into slices
  • 2 celery stalks trimmed, finely chopped
  • 1 large or 2 small turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 to 2 cups cooked ham, chopped
  • 4 cups cabbage, cut into 1/2-inch chiffonade
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 3 cups cooked white beans (such as navy or cannellini), with some of their cooking liquid
  • salt, if needed

1. In a large soup pot, combine onion, carrots, celery, turnips, potato and vegetable oil. Turn heat to medium-high and saute for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring regularly, until vegetables are fragrant and onion is translucent, but not browned. Reduce heat to medium if necessary to prevent browning.

2. Add rosemary, thyme, crushed red pepper, and ham, and saute for 2 to 3 additional minutes. Add cabbage, stock, and cooked beans. Then add water to cover vegetables and ham by 1 inch. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 60 minutes, until turnips and potato are cooked, and soup is thick. Leave to simmer for longer, if desired. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed. Serve piping hot with crusty bread, or biscuits, and a salad.

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baked beans

I learned a long time ago how to make baked beans from scratch from my father. And I learned just this week how hard it is to take a good photograph of baked beans. They are seriously unattractive. But I am undeterred! And so should you be. Along with shortcakes, baked beans are one of the dishes for which I will turn on my oven in the summertime. Turning on one’s oven in the sweltering heat is not to be done lightly, and is, in fact, to be avoided at all costs. But to me, baked beans are one of the quintessential summer foods. In fact, I would argue that baked beans, deviled eggs, and potato salad are the holy trinity of summer eating. I don’t think I have ever attended a picnic where these three items were not present. And heavens, who would want to?

I know you can buy perfectly good baked beans in a can, and I have often done so myself. But if you have cooked or canned beans on hand it takes only a few minutes to make your own from scratch, and they are quite delicious. You can play with the proportions  to make them sweeter, spicier, or more tart. I know everyone has their own preferences when it comes to baked beans—that’s why when you buy ones in a can you add more mustard, or more ketchup, or more molasses, right? Taste the beans (carefully—they’re hot) before you put them in the oven and add more of whatever you like. Especially taste for salt; it’s hard to get the amount right, as it depends on how salty the beans were initially, how salty your bacon was, whether your tomatoes were salted, and so on.

Today is a family reunion on my mother’s side of the family. I will be missing the reunion, and especially my Aunt Annie’s baked beans, which are simply the best. (Also, the deviled eggs, the potato salad, the macaroni and cheese. I could go on…) Nonetheless, I will muddle through here in New England, and enjoy my own summer cooking as best I can.

Baked beans

  • 3 slices of bacon (for vegetarian beans, substitute 3 tablespoons olive oil)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (about 1/2 large) Vidalia onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup medium to dark beer
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 3 plum tomatoes from a can of San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • 4 cups cooked beans (I used a mixture of Ojo de Cabra and cannellini), drained, or canned beans, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. In an ovenproof pan with high sides, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp and brown and fat is rendered. (If making vegetarian beans, simply add 3 tablespoons olive oil to pan and proceed with next step.) Add onion and saute 2 to 3 minutes until translucent. Add garlic and saute 1 minute more, until garlic is fragrant. Add beer and simmer for a few minutes, until liquid is reduced just a bit, scraping all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

2. Add ketchup, molasses, tomatoes, paprika, mustard, and chile powder. Simmer at medium-low and stir until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Add beans and bring to a steady simmer. Taste mixture (careful to let it cool first) and add salt if needed. (*) Place pan in oven and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until top is browned and sauce is thickened.

3. Let baked beans rest for 10 minutes before serving.

* To make beans ahead, stop here and refrigerate beans for up to 2 days. When ready to bake, bring to a simmer on the stovetop and then place in the oven as instructed.

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chard, bean + quinoa salad w pickled golden raisins

A friend inspired this dish by telling me she had made a similar salad with her CSA haul earlier in the week. We needed to fortify our supper offerings over the weekend with more complete proteins and slow-burning carbohydrates (there were many rounds of golf to be played) and something like this salad seemed just the thing. And it was: the perfect partner to poached chicken, pan-roasted pork chops, and all by itself. The market is currently full of greens that would fit the bill for this salad. You could blanch beet greens, kale, or spinach as indicated for chard below and the result would be a marvelous salad. I have to take an extra-large sack with me to the farmers’ market on Saturdays because even one of the giant bunches of kale or chard I collect while I’m there will fit in a normal tote bag.

Most of my recipes involving chard will use the ribs. In this one, since the chard is barely wilted, I knew the stems would be too crunchy. But I urge you to take my note below seriously. Use them for another purpose! At the very least throw them into your next pot of bones or scraps to make broth. Or do something more exciting. For example, I have been dying to make Lulu Peyraud’s salt cod and chard stem gratin.  Or if you were willing to take a few extra minutes, you could chop the stems separately and add them to boiling, salted water for about 5 to 7 minutes, until they’re tender. They would make a delightful addition to the salad. In any case, try making something with them—they’re flavorful and wonderful.

Let me say that you could easily slice radishes in here, or avocado, or roasted beets (which make poor neighbors in salads, turning everything fuchsia), or serve it with hard-boiled eggs, or poached eggs, or goat cheese. Or any crumbly cheese. Instead of quinoa, you could try this with cooked lentils, or bulgar, or cooked spelt grains, farro, brown rice or wheat berries. These heartier options would probably require a more orthodox stance on dressing. (The way I put this together, with such a light grain as quinoa, didn’t really require any dressing besides the olive oil still clinging to the leaves of the Swiss chard, and the hint of vinegar from the raisins.) Variations on this salad theme—beans plus grains plus vegetables—are a summer staple. Make a double batch of this to last through the week. It’s a true chameleon at the dinner table, and a wonderful partner in the kitchen.

Chard, bean + quinoa salad w pickled golden raisins

  • 3/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 large bunch Swiss chard, roughly chopped, stems removed for another purpose
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 cup red quinoa (or black or white if that is what you have)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups drained, cooked beans (I used cannellini)
  • salt, to taste

1. In a small bowl, toss together raisins and vinegar and set aside. As you prepare the rest of the dish, stir and toss the raisins in the vinegar periodically.

2. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add Swiss chard and toss until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Add minced garlic and crushed red pepper. Continue to cook only until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and drain and cool the mixture in a colander until it is cool enough to handle.

3. Meanwhile, rinse quinoa in a fine mesh strainer until very well rinsed. Add to a sauce pan with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until quinoa is done. This takes approximately 10 minutes. (Carefully taste quinoa to ensure it’s done.) Drain cooked quinoa in the fine mesh strainer.

4. Squeeze all the liquid you can from the drained chard. Remove to a cutting board and chop into a chiffonade. Drain any remaining vinegar from the raisins in the bowl. In a large bowl, combine the cooked chard mixture, the drained, cooked beans, the drained, pickled raisins, and the drained quinoa. Mix vigorously with a spatula; taste for salt and add more if necessary. If the salad is dry for your taste, add a drizzle of olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

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flageolet gratin w fennel + onions

I have been trying not to have an existential crisis about  the term gratin, but it is difficult. Am I the only one who grew up in a place where, if the term was used at all, it was in reference to a dish of creamy, cheesy potatoes? (Which, by the way, I still adore.) Over time, of course, I have seen it cropping up everywhere. Sometimes a gratin is topped with cheese, sometimes with seasoned breadcrumbs, or simply a dish of a vegetable cooked in milk or cream that during the baking process forms a crust on top. In any case, this expansion of the term gratin, at least in my mind, has been a profitable one. In certain dishes the addition of cheese to the gratin would overcome the delicate flavors of the vegetables within. That is certainly the case with this dish.

Flageolet beans are the palest pale green, a barely detectable shade of celadon. I get mine from Rancho Gordo. (I know, I sound like a broken record! But these are really the greatest beans ever. Embarrassingly, during the dinner party for which I made this dish, I got all my Rancho Gordo beans out of the pantry and displayed them to my guests, just like normal people show off their children. I am sure at this point everyone realized they were in the presence of a lunatic and lunged for the door. Luckily I probably had my back to the door, dishing up more of this gratin.) Their flavor is as delicate as their color. Traditionally served with lamb or other roasted meats, flageolet beans play well with the cast of characters we find in the market in the first warm days: onions, leeks, fennel, chard. In this recipe the beans are first simmered until they are done, but not falling apart. You do have to check on them religiously towards the end of the cooking time. Be sure to cook at a bare simmer, so that the violence of boiling bubbles doesn’t mash the beans up. Then they’re mixed with roasted fennel and layered on top of a generous amount of caramelized sliced onions. Then! The pièce de résistance! A healthy dose of buttered breadcrumbs is added to cover the top of the dish.

I made this the other day for our dinner party, but since the beans, fennel, and onions can be prepped in advance, layered, and refrigerated, I think this also makes a terrific option for a weeknight supper. (Just leave plenty of liquid in there, and don’t add the breadcrumbs until the moment before you pop it in the oven.) This could easily pass as a main course with a salad on the side. I’m going to try this on a weeknight very soon. I have to say, it’s too creamy and delicious to wait for the weekend.

Flageolet gratin w fennel + onions

Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin

  • 1 and 1/2 cups dried flageolet beans
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large bulb fennel, sliced into 1/4″ slices
  • 2 Vidalia or other sweet onions, thinly sliced, about 3 to 4 cups of sliced onion
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
  • chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • kosher salt or fleur de sel
  • coarsely ground black pepper

1. Rinse and wash flageolet beans. Cover with water and soak beans for up to 8 hours. Pour beans and soaking water into a heavy bottomed pot, adding water if necessary to cover beans by 3 inches with water, and bring to a simmer. Cook for one hour and add a bit of kosher salt, about 2 teaspoons. Cook for another half hour and taste beans. Continue cooking until beans are cooked through and have lost their raw, coarse taste. Take care not to overcook, as flageolet beans turn to mush quickly. Beans can be cooked two days ahead of time and stored, in their cooking water, in the refrigerator.

2.Preheat oven to 400 F. Toss fennel slices with 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large bowl. Spread fennel on a baking sheet and roast until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Turn heat to 425 F.

3. Meanwhile, in a large ovenproof casserole (large enough to hold the finished gratin) or saute pan, warm the olive oil and the sliced onion over high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1 teaspoon of thyme and some freshly ground pepper. Cook for 6 minutes, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium, and add 1 tablespoon of the butter. Cook for another 15 minutes, stirring often. Onions will start to caramelize. Then turn the heat to low and cook for 10 more minutes until the onions are a deep caramel brown color. Remove from heat.

4. If you are using the pan you used to caramelize the onions to bake the gratin, set it aside. Otherwise, scrape onions into a gratin dish or earthenware baking dish and set aside.

5. In a medium bowl toss the breadcrumbs with remaining 1 teaspoon of thyme, and a handful of fresh chopped parsley. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Cook for about 3 minutes, swirling the pan regularly, until the butter browns and smells nutty—but be careful, it will burn quickly from that point. Pour the butter over the breadcrumbs and toss thoroughly with a spoon.

6. Assemble the dish: Combine the cooked beans and roasted fennel. Taste beans to make sure they are properly salted. Reserving cooking liquid from beans, strain the cooked beans and fennel and add to the gratin dish or casserole, spooning them carefully on top of the caramelized onions. The beans should only come three-quarters up the side of the dish, as they will continue to expand during cooking. Then, carefully pour in bean cooking liquid to come about a finger’s width below the top of the beans. (The beans will cook and soak up this liquid during their baking time.) Cover the top of the dish with the buttered crumbs.

7. Place gratin in the 425 F oven. Bake for 60 to 90 minutes, until gratin is bubbling and the breadcrumbs on top are deeply browned. Remove from oven and let the dish rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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bean + chorizo cassoulet

In general I would say that there are very few ways of getting ahead in life. But one of them is cooking a big pot of beans over the weekend. When I have a ridiculously busy week coming up, I grab a pound of dried beans (I use beans from Rancho Gordo because of their freshness and amazing variety) and simmer them on Sunday. I dip into those beans for dishes throughout the week. I’m only cooking for two here, so if you have a larger family, cook a couple of pounds one Sunday and see what I mean. Once the beans are cooked, the rest of most bean recipes (soup, chili, pot pie, hearty salads, you name it) come together with just about 30 to 45 minutes of simmering.

Beans play well with all sorts of flavors, as evidenced in this recipe. Instead of a traditional cassoulet, which is a major, time-consuming work of art (one not to be missed; probably not one to be made from scratch on a school night if you’d like to maintain your sanity), this takes advantage of the basic beans-and-sausage concept of the original, while adding a little bit of a Latin twist. Pair this with a simple salad of avocado and spinach (dressed with the juice of that lemon you zested and some olive oil and salt), and you’ll have dinner on in less than an hour.

I removed a number of steps (and the use of the oven) from the original recipe from Bon Appetit. It seemed like there was a bit of extra fuss in the original recipe. My guess is the original does cook up thicker in the oven, and perhaps the bread crumbs are a bit more incorporated into the dish, but, after all, we are talking about getting ahead here. All I can tell you is that this is pretty delicious. So grab a pound or two of dried beans this weekend, slowly simmer them on Sunday until they are nice and soft, and set yourself up for a week of great meals.

Bean + chorizo cassoulet

Based on this recipe from Bon Appetit

  • 1 to 1.5 pounds fresh chorizo sausage in 1-inch chunks or balls
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3 anchovy fillets packed in oil, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 4 cups cooked beans (I used Eye of the Goat, about 1/2 pound dried beans)
  • 2 cups bean cooking liquid
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1.5 cups fresh breadcrumbs
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add sausage and cook until browned. Add onion into the pan and cook until soft, about 5 more minutes. Add garlic and anchovies; cook and stir 1 minute more until anchovies dissolve. Add tomato paste and paprika–smear the tomato paste on the bottom of the pan–until paste is caramelized, about 2 minutes. Add reserved 1 cup bean broth, beans, chicken broth, tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, and rosemary; stir thoroughly and bring to a simmer.

2. Cover and simmer over low heat until beans are very tender and flavors have blended, about 45 minutes. Check occasionally, stir, and add more bean cooking liquid or chicken broth as needed.

3. Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet. Add breadcrumbs and cook, stirring to mix in oil thoroughly. Cook until golden and crisp. Be careful because at the end they burn quickly, and will continue to brown off the heat, especially in a heavy skillet like cast iron. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, stir in lemon zest and cilantro, and set aside.

4. When cassoulet has simmered, remove lid and stir thoroughly. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over beans. Let cassoulet sit for 15 minutes before serving.

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