from The Cooking of Southwest France, pp. 286-87.

Why don’t I cook from Paula Wolfert’s cookbooks more often? I often ask myself that question. Friends are coming over; I have several pounds of Rancho Gordo beans to consume; I’ve barely touched this cookbook in the two years I’ve owned it. And I should mention that a lot of the recipes here are winter food, good rib-sticking grub. Now that I’ve made this recipe, I realize it couldn’t fail. Beans and pork, classic combination. Cinnamon + cloves + duck fat + butter + garlic + brandy + drizzled walnut oil = vanilla ecstasy. It’s the kind of recipe that reminds me again that while I can renounce sugar for life I will never give up fat. The add virtue of this dish is that it’s relatively inexpensive to make for company. Read on.

To begin…

2 cups small red beans or red kidney beans

Shadowcook: Or you order beans from Rancho Gordo. I used their Vallarta beans, which are not red, but of all the RG beans I have in my pantry they were the most suitable. I thought they turned out very well, even if they weren’t as creamy as their red beans. Bear in mind that RG beans don’t need soaking, cook faster, hold their shape better, and taste better than the beans you buy in stores.

1 cup full-bodied red wine, such as Côtes-du-Rhône

1 large onion, halved and stuck with 2 cloves, plus 1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 cinnamon stick

1 large carrot, chopped, plus 1/2 pound carrots, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds

2 tablespoons rendered goose, duck, or pork fat

Shadowcook: I used duck fat, because I prefer its flavor to the others — although all three are pretty damn good!

1 pound boneless pork butt or shoulder, cut into 4 or 5 pieces

Shadowcook: I cut up the pork into small chunks and it turned out fine.

1/4 pound pancetta

Shadowcook: I bought the pancetta in one slab and diced it myself before putting it in the food processor, as you’ll see the directions call for.

5 peeled garlic cloves: 4 left whole and 1 finely chopped

4 sprigs of parsley plus 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 imported bay leaf

Shadowcook: By “imported,” I think she means Turkish. I used a fresh leaf from my laurel tree. They say I should use half of it to one Turkish leaf, but I don’t think a whole one will overpower the beans.

1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves

2 tablespoons butter

pinch of sugar

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons Armagnac or brandy

Shadowcook: Brandy. In fact, as Dick, my wine guy (whose palate I have come to have great confidence in) tells me, a $10 bottle of Korbel’s brandy is indistinguishable from fine Armagnac when you use it in this quantity and heat it. Save yourself some money.

1 tablespoon walnut or olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1. A day in advance, place the beans in a colander and rinse well under cold running water. Drain the beans and place in a large bowl. Add the water to cover by at least 2 inches and let soak overnight.

Shadowcook: Or you can completely skip the soaking part. My Latino friends tell me that no one soaks beans south of the Rio Grande. And if you’re using Rancho Gordo beans, you really can skip that step. In general, you must monitor the pace of cooking when it comes to beans. Not soaking may add a bit of time to the recipe, but not appreciably — unless you have really old beans.

2. Early the following day, rinse and drain the beans. Place them in a 5-quart flameproof earthenware or enameled cast-iron casserole with the wine and enough water to cover by 1 inch. Slowly bring to a boil.

3. When the beans reach the boil, skim thoroughly; add the onion stuck with cloves and the cinnamon stick. Reduce the heat and simmer while preparing the vegetables and pork in Steps 5 and 6.

4. In a large skillet, brown the chopped carrots and onions in the fat over moderately high heat, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the pieces of pork and sauté, turning, until browned on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the contents of the skillet to the beans.

Shadowcook: Instead of sauteeing the vegetables before the pork, I did it in reverse. It meant using a bit more than 2 tablespoons of duck fat, but I’m not complaining. I seared the pieces of pork in a few batches. Crowding them only elicits water and steams them. So, give the searing pieces room. As each piece finished, I shook excess fat off of the piece and dropped it into the beans, which were still coming to a slow boil on the opposite burner. Then I added a bit more duck fat and the chopped vegetables. I scraped up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Added the whole thing to the beans.

5. In a food processor, combine the pancetta with 4 cloves of the garlic, the parsley sprigs, bay leaf, and thyme. Grind to a puree. Add to the casserole.

6. Cook the beans, covered, over very low heat or in a preheated 275 oven for 2 1/2 hours. After 2 1/2 hours, uncover the beans and cook until the liquid is thick, about 1 1/2 hours.

Shadowcook: Even if you don’t use Rancho Gordo beans, check the beans every 20-30 minutes. Be sure not to overcook them. It took 3 hours for my beans to finish.

7. Meanwhile, in a heavy medium saucepan, cook the sliced carrots with 1 tablespoon of the butter, covered, over moderately low heat for 5 minutes. Uncover, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, and swirl over moderately high heat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the carrots take on a little color. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar. Mix the carrots into the beans in the casserole. Season with salt and pepper. (The recipe can be prepared to this point at least 4 hours in advance.)

8. About 1 hour before serving, preheat the oven to 350. Bake the beans uncovered until the tops glaze slightly, 20 to 25 minutes. Gently stir from bottom to top to keep the surface moist. Bake until a light crust forms on the surface, about 30 minutes.

9. Sprinkle the Armagnac on top and let stand until ready to serve. Serve hot, with a light sprinkling of the walnut oil and vinegar and a dusting of the chopped parsley and garlic.

Note to the cook

To avoid drying out and breaking the beans, be sure that they are always covered with the cooking liquid or enrobed in the sauce. If necessary, add boiling water. Cooking beans in wine keeps them from turning mushy. They need longer cooking but are able to absorb more flavor.

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