Bean there, done that

Food: Recipe – Ucceletto Beans

If you’re looking for some long lead cooking that can help you stay healthy, the ever-humble bean is one of the best options

By Louise Crosby

I know busy people who spend Sunday afternoons in the kitchen making food to last well into the week. Stews, spaghetti sauce, soups, casseroles. This is the time for relaxed cooking, letting things simmer long and slow. Then come Monday or Tuesday night, after a long day at work, dinner is just a matter of heating things up, boiling some pasta or making a salad. Food is on the table in no time and you thank yourself for making the effort in advance.

When I take a long look at meals, I often cook a pot of beans. Not the sweet pork and beans of our youth, although they can be very good, but chick peas or black beans, brown pintos or white Great Northerns, soaked overnight, then simmered for an hour or two with some aromatics for flavour – a quartered onion, some chopped carrot and celery, a head of garlic. Once done, they can become a vital ingredient in a wholesome and fortifying soup, mashed into a pâté or spread, or thrown into a salad. You feel rich with a container of soft, creamy beans in the fridge.

Marco Canora, writer of cookbooks and owner of the New York City restaurant Hearth, appreciates the value of a dried bean. These Ucceletto Beans, from A Good Food Day, are cannellini beans cooked “in the manner of little birds,” with sage, rosemary, tomatoes and garlic, ingredients traditionally used in Italy to cook squab and quail. They’re delicious just the way they are, but if you’re looking for a more substantive meal, Canora suggests browning some sausage in a pan, then adding the beans to the pan to capture all those delicious sausage juices.

Beans, as you know, are nutritional powerhouses, full of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. They digest slowly and stabilize blood sugar, keeping you fuller for longer. I found cannellini beans at an Italian grocer; if you have trouble finding them, the widely available Great Northern beans would make a good substitute.

Pot of Beans

1 pound dried cannellini beans (or any dried bean)
Fine sea salt
1 head garlic
1 bunch fresh sage
Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Freshly cracked black pepper (optional)

Add the beans to a large bowl and cover them with water by at least 4 inches. Add enough salt so the water tastes like the sea. Let sit overnight (at least 12 hours) at room temperature.

The next day, drain the beans, put them in a very large pot, and add enough water to cover them by about 2 inches. Remove any loose, papery outer layers from the head of garlic and cut off about ¼ inch of the stem end to expose the cloves. Add the head of garlic and the sage to the pot.

Cook the beans gently over medium heat, adjusting the temperature so the water bubbles just occasionally. When the beans soften but are not quite tender, give them a taste. If more salt is needed, add it now so the beans will finish cooking in properly seasoned liquid. Continue cooking until they are soft and creamy. The time will vary, but I start checking them after 30 minutes and generally find that they’re done somewhere between 45 minutes and 1 hour 30 minutes.

Serve the beans warm with olive oil and black pepper. Or cool the beans, put them in a glass storage container, and add enough of their cooking liquid to fully submerge them. Store them in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Makes 6 cups
Note on the quick-soak method: Add the beans to a large pot and cover them with water by 4 inches. Salt the water, cover the pot, and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as it reaches a boil, remove from the heat and let sit for 1 hour covered. Drain and rinse.

Ucceletto Beans

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
4 garlic cloves, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 1 packed tablespoon)
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped, half the juice from the can reserved
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
4 cups cooked cannellini beans, or 2½ (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
¼ cup bean cooking liquid or water

In a cold, large high-sided skilled, combine the olive oil and garlic, then turn the heat to high. As soon as the garlic shows the slightest tinge of brown, about 2 minutes in, stir in the tomatoes and the reserved juice. Add a pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes to concentrate the flavours and reduce the liquid. Add the sage, rosemary, and a generous amount of pepper and cook for 1 minute.

Add the beans and their cooking liquid (or ¼ cup water, if using canned beans). Cook until there’s no liquid pooling on the bottom of the pan and the sauce coats and sticks to the beans, about 5 minutes. Serve warm, dressed with pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Serves: 6

Photo: Louise Crosby
THE EX-PRESS, March 17, 2016


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