The following recipe is from the April 21 edition of our weekly recipe newsletter. To receive this newsletter in your inbox, enter your email after clicking Newsletter above.
In the introduction to this recipe for White Beans with Garlic and Herbs from In The Green Kitchen by Alice Waters, cooking a pot of beans is described as being a simple technique, but I beg to differ. While anyone can open a can of beans and heat them up, cooking dried beans is another story. Dried beans have a texture when cooked that isn't remotely on the same level as their canned counterparts. While canned beans have a tendency to overcook and turn into mush, dried beans retain a great bite and meaty texture.
This recipe from David Tanis, who spends half of the year manning the stoves at Chez Panisse and the other half in Paris, is a wonderful way to ease into the world of dried beans. The preparation couldn't be more basic: Sweat some aromatic vegetables, add the beans, a few herbs, and some cured pork, if you like. Once the beans cook through they're as delicious and hearty as can be. But Tanis' recipe is just a jumping off point, and the elements can be changed according to what you have on hand and whatever flavor profile you heart desires. As with all of the other recipes in In the Green Kitchen, this dish is more of a skill to learn by heart than a hard and fast recipe—it's a dish that invites you to make it your own.
- 1 pounds dried cannellini beans, cranberry, or other dried beans
- Olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and diced
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 or 2 sprigs thyme, sage, savory, or rosemary
- Ham hock, or a piece of pancetta or bacon (optional)
Rinse the beans and pick over, removing any small stones or debris. If time allows, soak the beans, covered by an inch or so of water, for several hours or overnight. (Otherwise, proceed without soaking the beans first.) Cover the bottom of a large heavy pot or earthenware bean pot with olive oil, add the vegetables and herbs, and cook gently over medium heat for 10 minutes. Drain the beans and add to the pot along with enough water to cover by 2 inches. If you like, add a ham hock or other meat to the pot.
Bring the beans to a boil, and let them boil for a minute or two. Lower the heat to a very gentle simmer and cook the beans until soft and tender, 1 to 2 hours, depending on their variety and age. Add more hot water as needed during the cooking to keep the beans covered by at least an inch of water. When the beans are soft, add salt, taste after a few minutes, and add more salt if needed.
Serve the beans moistened with the cooking broth, and if you like, a drizzle of olive oil. If not serving right away, let the beans cool completely in the broth, and refrigerate. They will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator.