Tuscan Beans with Olive Oil and Aromatics
1½ cups dried white beans, such as cannellini, soaked overnight and drained
Any or all of the following aromatics: 1 small onion, quartered; 1 garlic clove, lightly crushed; 4 or 5 sage leaves; 2 bay leaves; 12 black peppercorns; 1 small dried hot red chili
¼ cup best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black or white pepper
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
Set beans in a saucepan and add 3½ cups water and any or all of the aromatics. Do not add salt. Bring water to a boil, turn the heat down, cover the beans and simmer gently for 30 minutes to 1½ hours, adding boiling water from time to time if necessary to keep the beans from scorching. Be attentive; if the water gets low, the beans will scorch very quickly. Cooking time depends on the size and age of the beans, which is hard to assess. At the end of 30 minutes, start testing the beans to judge how tender they are and continue testing periodically until the beans are done. They should be very tender but not falling apart.
Remove beans from the heat and drain them, reserving the cooking liquid. Discard the aromatics used in cooking the beans. At this point, if you wish, remove about ½ to ¾ cup cooked beans and crush them gently, using a fork, in about ½ cup of the reserved cooking liquid. Then stir in the crushed beans with the whole cooked beans. Add more cooking liquid if you wish to reach the desired consistency. Or leave all the beans whole and add ½ cup or more of the reserved cooking liquid.
Add olive oil to the beans while hot and stir to coat the beans well. Dress them with one of the combinations or devise your own:
» 1 garlic clove, minced, and 6 scallions, both white and green parts, sliced on the diagonal.
» A little chopped raw onion and finely slivered fresh green chilies.
» The juice of ½ lemon along with ½ teaspoon ground cumin and chopped fresh hot red chilies or a pinch of hot red pepper flakes.
» Finely minced fresh green herbs — basil, dill, fennel tops, chervil, sage, lovage, borage or others.
Taste and add salt and freshly ground black or white pepper after dressing the beans. Whatever the flavors or garnishes, however, the beans should be sprinkled with minced parsley before serving. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Yield: 6-8 servings
— From “The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook”
Chick Pea Stew
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon brown sugar or 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar or lemon juice
4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped; or 1 (14-ounce) can of tomatoes, drained and chopped
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 ounces leaf spinach
½ pound dried chick peas, cooked and drained; or 2 (15-ounce) cans chick peas, rinsed and drained
¼ cup chopped fresh herbs, preferably a mix of flat-leaf parsley, dill and mint
Drained yogurt (see note below)
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and add onions. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes, and add garlic, cumin and fennel seeds. Cook until onion has colored slightly, 5 to 8 minutes. Add sugar and stir together for a minute, then stir in the vinegar, tomatoes and Aleppo pepper or substitutions. Cook, stirring, until the tomatoes have cooked down a bit, about 10 minutes.
Stir in spinach, chick peas and about 1 teaspoon salt. Add enough water so the dish can simmer. Simmer uncovered over medium heat, stirring often, about 20 to 25 minutes. The stew should be saucy but not watery. Add salt to taste and stir in the herbs. Serve with lemon wedges and yogurt.
Yield: 4 servings
Note: Drained yogurt is made by draining the yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined strainer for several hours.
— From “Mediterranean Harvest: Vegetarian Recipes from the World's Healthiest Cuisine”
Down-East Baked Beans
1 pound (2 cups) Maine yellow-eye beans (acceptable substitutes: Great Northern or white navy beans)
¼ pound salt pork
½ cup dark, full-flavored molasses
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon mustard powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Pick over the beans, removing any debris or pebbles. Place beans in a nonreactive pot, cover by 3 inches of water and let sit for 6 to 8 hours.
Place beans and what remains of soaking liquid into a large pot, adding more water if necessary to ensure the beans are covered. Bring this to a simmer, and after 15 minutes, check every 5 minutes until a sharp breath will split the skin of a bean. Then drain the beans into a colander, sitting on top of a bowl to catch the cooking liquid. Return cooking liquid to pot and let simmer on the stove while preparing beans for baking.
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Cut salt pork into bite-sized pieces and pour boiling water over to cover well. Drain after several minutes, discarding the liquid. Mix the salt-pork pieces into the prepared beans and pour them together in a 2-quart bean pot. Stir in the molasses and rum. Dissolve mustard powder in a bit of water and mix this in well. Add seasoning to taste, starting with about ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Pour over just enough of the simmering bean liquid to be visible through the beans.
Turn off the heat under the pot of simmering bean liquid. Reserve to add to baked beans as needed.
Cover baked bean pot and put in the oven. Bake beans for 5 hours, tasting occasionally, noting texture and seasoning, and adding more of the remaining bean liquid — or else water — as necessary. When beans are soft and succulent, stir them well, uncover and bake ½ hour more to thicken the liquid into sauce.
Yield: 4-6 servings
— Adapted from “Serious Pig: An American Cook in Search of His Roots”