I am a hoarder of beans. Dried beans. I find them irresistible, especially if i come across them while I am traveling and they are harvested from the area I happen to be visiting. If they are a variety I have never heard of, all the better. I buy a bag, or two, and have all sorts of good intentions about how I will cook them when I get home. I tuck them into the pantry upon returning and then, somehow, I forget about them.
I had not realized that my collection had grown quite so large until I reached into my pantry the other day to grab something else entirely and out tumbled two, three, four, five bags of beans, some opened, some still sealed, plus one of dried chick peas.
Among the beans were some gorgeous striped and speckled brown ones called fagioli stregoni that I had gotten a couple of years back in Garfagnana, in northern Tuscany. The chick peas were from the same trip, I think. Several bags–cannelini, yellow-eyed beans, black beans, and a creamy yellow colored variety known as mayocoba–came from my family’s annual summer trip to northern Michigan. There was also a bag of big, leathery scarlet runners that I had picked up at La Cuisine, in Old Town. Clearly, I had allowed things to get out of hand.
Rather than tackle one bag at a time, I decided to mix things up a bit. With the exception of the black beans, which I was not sure would be at home in an Italian bean stew, I combined some of each variety, including the chick peas, and set them to soak overnight in cold water. Usually when I cook dried beans I simmer them slowly on the stovetop. For a change, I put this batch, after they had soaked, into an enameled cast-iron pot, along with some woodsy herbs, garlic, and onions, and put them in a moderately hot oven.
I let the beans cook for a long time, more than two hours, and as they cooked they perfumed the house with the smell of onion and sage and rosemary and the rich aroma of the beans themselves. I was delighted with the way they turned out, full-flavored and tender (even the large scarlet runners) but still holding their shape.
Beans cooked in this way have plenty of uses, as a base for pasta e fagioli, for example, or stirred into a country vegetable soup such as ribollita. You can serve them warm as a side dish to roast chicken, pork, or fish, or puree them and spread them on crostini.
To give my beans an additional boost of flavor, I sauteed a bit of diced pancetta and sliced shallot, and added this mixture to the beans, finishing them with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. To be honest, I still have a lot of beans left over. So if you have any other ideas for how I should use them, I would love to hear them. Buon Appetito.
Copyright 2011 Domenica Marchetti
- 2 cups mixed dried beans, soaked overnight in cold water
- 1 medium onion, quartered
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed but left whole
- 1 sprig rosemary, cut into 3 or 4 pieces
- 1 sprig sage (with 10-12 leaves)
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- To finish the beans:
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 3/4 cup diced pancetta
- 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
- Juice of 1/2 small lemon (optional)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Drain the beans and place them in a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed ovenproof pot. Tuck in the onion quarters, garlic cloves, and herbs. Drizzle the olive oil over the top. Cover the pot and let the beans bake at a gentle simmer (check them every so often) for 2 to 3 hours, until they are tender but still hold their shape. Toward the end of cooking, gently stir in about 2 teaspoons of salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Remove the beans from the oven and leave them covered. (At this point, you can use the beans as a base for soup or other dishes.)
To finish the beans, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet placed over medium heat. Put the pancetta in the skillet and cook, stirring from time to time, until the pieces begin to brown and render their fat, about 5 minutes. Add the shallot to the skillet and cook 5 minutes more, until the shallot is wilted and the pancetta is lightly browned. Pour the pancetta mixture, including the pan drippings, into the pot of beans and stir gently but thoroughly. Stir in the lemon juice, if using. Transfer the beans to a warmed serving bowl and drizzle generously with olive oil. Garnish with a sprig of sage or rosemary if you like.