Sunday Supper: Italian Sausage with Cannellini Beans and Pickled Peppers
Editor's note: Each Saturday afternoon we bring you a Sunday Supper recipe. Why on Saturday? So you have time to shop and prepare for tomorrow.
Using canned beans is easy, and they're not bad either. But the reality is you don't attain texture and depth of flavor with a cheater's approach. Making a good pot of beans means sorting through them to discard inadvertent stones and shriveled legumes. You also need to soak them in a salty brine, ideally overnight.
You may have heard that salting beans before or during cooking is a bad idea, resulting in beans that will never soften. This is a complete myth. In fact, soaking beans in a salt water brine and seasoning the water while they cook will actually make for beans that soften faster. It all has to do with magnesium and calcium ions in the beans skin—two molecules that keeps them firm. Salt will replace these ions overnight, allowing the beans to soften more easily for a creamier, more evenly cooked texture.
Enter a problem: I forgot about my soaked beans. For two days. Having absorbed all the water, they were plump—so plump that they had started to crack. I cooked them anyway and prepared another batch from scratch as a point of comparison. Both tasted great, but the properly soaked version retained its integrity during cooking. Moral: don't forget about your beans.
As for bringing the flavors together, salt and acid are key components. Without a fair dash of both, the dish will fall flat. Salt enlivens otherwise bland beans, while incorporating vinegar both in the dish and as a pickled pepper condiment takes the resulting one-pot prep to bright heights. If you skimp on either component, something will seem missing. (Unlike salt, vinegar actually should be incorporated only after the beans are cooked, as a lowered pH makes softening the pectin in bean skins more difficult.)
And as for those peppers, don't just dump a cold vinegar mixture on top. When I tried, the peppers were too crunchy. What's more, the brininess didn't properly penetrate the vegetables. The key to a good quick pickle is to lightly cook the peppers in the vinegar mixture, then allow them to cool in them overnight. Not a problem since I've got to wait for my beans to soak anyway.
Does this dish take some time? Yes. But the hands-on aspect is minimal, especially since the soaking and brining take place the night before.
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About the author: Jennifer Olvera is a veteran food and travel writer and author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Chicago." Follow her eating adventures on Twitter @olverajennifer.