1 1/4 cups dry beans: $1.50
1 onion: $0.50
1 carrot: $0.25 1 stalk celery (pro-rated): $0.25 Fresh sage: $1.39 Can tomatoes: $1.50 Greens: $2.00
Pantry items: Breadcrumbs, olive oil, salt, garlic, polenta.
Total cost (for 4-6 portions): $7.39
As you know, I am a huge fan of rice and beans. Even I, however, crave a little legume variety from time to time. The Art of Simple Food suggests a bean gratin, which I was pleased to eat on top of polenta baked the Madhur Jaffrey way. The combination is good and filling but definitely tends toward the ultra-simple or even staid; add a vinegary green salad or sautéed leafy greens with a squeeze of lemon to brighten the meal.
I cook my beans from scratch, but two 14-ounce cans, drained and rinsed, will work for all but the biggest bean snobs. I'm calling fresh breadcrumbs a pantry item because a little bit of most any kind of bread will do; you should always stash staling bread in the freezer for exactly this moment. If you happen to have some grating cheese around, scatter a handful of parmesan, pecorino, or even cheddar beneath the breadcrumbs before baking.
- 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- Olive oil
- 1 1/4 cups dry cranberry or borlotti beans, soaked if you prefer to soak beans before cooking
- 1/2 smallish onion, finely diced
- 1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
- 1 small stalk celery, finely diced
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 6 fresh sage leaves, chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
Put the beans in a saucepan with water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and then maintain a gentle simmer until the beans are tender; the total amount of time will vary greatly depending on your beans, but you should start checking after 45 minutes. Add more water if necessary during cooking. When the beans are completely tender, season to taste with salt and allow them to cool in their liquid.
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan or skillet. Add the diced vegetables and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sage and season with salt. Cook for 5 minutes and then stir in the tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes more and taste for salt.
Drain the beans, reserving the liquid, and put them in a medium-size gratin or baking dish (mine is about 8 inches square and 2 deep). Stir in the sautéed vegetables and taste for salt again. Pour in enough bean-cooking liquid to almost cover. Drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil and cover with the toasted breadcrumbs. Bake for 40 minutes in a 350 oven, peeking in occasionally. If the gratin is drying out, carefully spoon a bit of bean cooking liquid in at the edge of the dish, to avoid getting the bread crumbs wet.