Beans


from The Zuni Café Cookbook, pp. 324-26.

I needed some comfort food this past weekend. That meant there was only one place to look. I swore I would not post another Zuni Café Cookbook, but the book is so deep that it’s difficult to judge where fair use ends. I decided I hadn’t reached it yet. And let me once again urge you to buy this book!

It would never have occurred to me to cook salmon with red wine and beans. I’m so glad the idea came to Rodgers. Now that I’ve made it, I’ve been trying to articulate to myself why it worked so well. It must have something to do with the so-called oiliness of the fish. Its richness sunk into the beans and drank up the wine.

I made one portion for myself, so if you’re cooking for two, just double the portion.

Here’s my synthesis of her recipes for the salmon and the beans…

1 cup dried flageolet beans

1/2 carrot, diced (save the other half for below)

1/2 small yellow onion (save the other half for below)

1 tablespoond duck fat

Kosher salt

1/3 lb salmon fillet, preferably Pacific or Alaskan, at least an inch thick.

Salt

1 cup medium-bodied red wine, such as a Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, or a light Merlot

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 thick strip of bacon, preferably unsmoked, cut into 1/4-inch strip

About 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1/2 carrot, diced

1 rib celery, diced

1/2 small yellow onion, diced

a few sprigs of fresh thyme

1/2 bay leaf

Seasoning the salmon (for the best flavor, do this several hours in advance): Season the salmon evenly with salt. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Shadowcook: Rodgers is a proponent of salting all meat, including fish, several hours, sometimes days, in advance of cooking. She urges home cooks to get into the habit of doing this, which means knowing what you’re going to eat well in advance, and promises that the meat will taste better and become more tender. I think she’s right.

First, my interpretation of Rodgers’ recommended method of cooking the beans: Put the cup of dried beans in a pot. Cover with water by about an inch. Bring to a simmer. After skimming the scum off the surface of the water, add the carrot, onion and bay leaf. Partially cover the pot and let simmer until the beans are tender. That could take about an hour, perhaps longer, depending on how old the beans are. Cook them until they still have a bit of bite to them. You don’t want them falling apart, because they have a few minutes of intense cooking under the broiler later in the recipe.

When the beans have reached that point, add salt. As Rodgers points out, it takes a while for the beans to absorb the salt, so judge by tasting the cooking liquid. Then add the tablespoon of duck fat to the beans.

Shadowcook: By now, I hope everyone who reads this blog has acquired the habit of keeping duck fat in the fridge at all times. It just makes life a little bit richer. They also now say duck fat is good for you, but who cares?

Update: Here’s the article about duck fat that reinforced my commitment to have it always on hand.

Remove a cup of beans from the pot. The cooking liquid that comes with the beans is fine. Set aside.

Preheat the broiler. Position the rack about 6 inches from the element.

Place the wine in a small saucepan and reduce to about 1/3-1/4 cup. Add the chicken stock and return to a simmer. Turn off the heat.

Place the bacon in a small ovenproof skillet and lightly brown it in its own fat over medium heat. Reduce the heat slightly and pour off all but a film of the fat. Add about 1/2 tablespoon of butter, the other half of the chopped carrot, the celery, and the other half of the chopped onion, and the sprig of thyme. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.

Add the flageolets, the reduced red wine-stock mixture, the half bay leaf, another sprig of thyme, and more butter. Raise the heat to mediumm and swirl as the liquid comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, add the salmon, and swirl and tilt the pan to baste the top of the fish. Make sure no beans, bacon, or bits of vegetables are perched on top of the fish, where they could burn.

Place the pan under the broiler. Cook for about 6 to 7 minutes; the salmon should be quite rare and the whole surface of the dish should be sizzling and beginning to color. Watch closely; if the fish or beans threaten to char at any point, reduce the oven temperature to 500.

Shadowcook: I thought 6 minutes was plenty. It depends on the thickness of the fillet. My fish came out medium-rare, which was fine.

While the fish is cooking, set a plate in the oven for a minute to heat.

Transfer the pan to the stovetop. Using a spatula and tongs, transfer the salmon to the plate, where it should reach medium-rare as you finish the sauce. Protect from drafts.

Set the pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Taste. If the liquid looks or tastes thin, simmer briefly to reduce and allow the starch from the beans to bind the sauce. If it seems winy, add a splash of the reserved bean cooking liquid. Correct the salt, Swirl in more butter.

Spoon the saucy beans over the waiting fish.

Shadowcook: And prepare to gobble it up!

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.

You can find the original recipe here. Suggestions for a vegetarian version appear at the end of this post.

I swore off buying new appliances, sold quite a few of them at a driveway sale last summer, and scaled back on my cooking once I embarked on another long course of Weight Watchers. My appliance abstinence lasted all of two months. Last week, I bought a small Cuisinart three-quart slow cooker. It’s a perfect size for this single-eater household.

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published this recipe. It calls for skipping the pre-soaking part of bean cooking. I liked that idea, especially since lately I switched to using Rancho Gordo’s heirloom dried beans, which are much fresher than most store-bought kind. Not only did I not pre-soak the Rancho Gordo beans, but the stew  finished in under 8 hours on the Low setting. The amount of water needed will vary according to the freshness of the beans and your preference for soupy stews or stewy soups. However, the recipe does not call for a slow-cooker, so I’ve had to adapt it. Perhaps it works best on a weekend morning, when you can do the prep cooking without rushing. A vegetarian adaptation appears at the end.

The result is a rich, smoky, and flavorful pot of beans and sausage:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for serving

1 pound fresh sweet Italian sausages, sliced 3/4-inch thick

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon cumin

2 medium carrots, finely diced

2 celery stalks, finely diced

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 pound Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked through

Shadowcook: Or canellini or mayacoba bean. In any case, a white bean that holds its shape.

2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

Shadowcook: Interesting that whoever thought this up has you put kosher salt into the pot with the beans at the beginning of their cooking. Most cooks claim salt retards absorption of water in a hard bean. I suspect the older the bean, the more likely that’s true. But if you’re using recently dried beans, salt may not impede the softening process as much. I followed the directions and the beans cooked quickly.

2 thyme sprigs

1 large rosemary sprig

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, more for serving

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, more to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown until through, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel.

Shadowcook: Don’t crowd the sausage rounds. Insufficient space around anything that is sauteeing creates steam. Food needs room to brown and fry properly.

2. Add the tomato paste and cumin to the pot. Cook, stirring, until dark golden, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beans, 8 cups water, salt, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer gently until the beans are tender, about 2 hours, adding more water if needed to make sure the beans remain submerged.

Shadowcook: For the slow cooker, after you have cooked the tomato paste, cumin, carrots, celery, onion, and garlic, transfer it all to a slow cooker. Make bring you all the oil and bits with the vegetables to the ceramic pot. Then add the beans and herbs to the pot. Pour in 6-7 cups of water. The rule of thumb in converting recipes to slow-cookers is to reduce the liquid by half. I began this stew with 4 cups and within 4 hours (the beans still hard) I had to add another 3 cups. Set the temperature to Low for 10 hours. Walk away, but come back in four or five hours to check the beans.

3. When the beans are tender, return the sausage to the pot. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Ladle into warm bowls and serve drizzled with additional vinegar and olive oil.

Shadowcook: For a vegetarian version, substitute a bunch of chopped Swiss chard leaves and 2 chopped leeks for the sausage. Sauté the chopped chard and leeks in olive oil, add the remaining ingredients to the sauteed leaves, and proceed with the recipe.

For another meat version, consider adding a ham hock to the beans and water, after you’ve sauteed the vegetables in olive oil.