Confessions of a Bean Hoarder

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Perhaps I was an Italian peasant in a previous life. Years back, I spent time cooking at an agriturismo (farmhouse bed and breakfast) in Tuscany. I instantly felt at home in the land of towering sunflowers, overgrown sage, and prickly blackberry bushes, wild boar sausage, and Pecorino. Of course, fresh pasta and free-flowing prosecco are easy to fall for (and let’s not even bring up Massimo, the neighbor), but there were other reasons I felt in my element.

I am certainly more rustic than refined. My favorite table is always the one outdoors. Given the choice, I’ll pass on a fancy prix fixe for a simple, satisfying meal comprising great ingredients (bread, cheese, fruit, wine) finished with little more than a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and freshly ground pepper. This was an everyday approach in Tuscany, where we feasted on multi-colored tomatoes and fresh cheese, tender braised artichoke hearts, chewy, salt-flecked schiaccia (Tuscan flatbread), silky slices of prosciutto, and creamy cannellini beans drizzled with peppery, dark green olive oil. I fell hard for all of it — especially, especially for the beans.

My bean-cooking pantry game has been strong since Chicago, my first stop after college. I'd avoid the soul-crushing process of sending out resumes by cruising through neighborhood markets that provided endless distraction via steamy bags of warm tortillas, piles of glossy green chile peppers, and pyramids of dried beans, shiny as pebbles.

"During that chapter of wondering what my future life and future self would be — I took great comfort in simmering endless pots of black beans and pintos."

It was a bonus that beans (and those fresh tortillas) were something I could actually afford, but that never diminished the pleasure I took in preparing and eating them.

Those years are serving us well during these strange times of limited shopping — jockeying for a curbside delivery slot or wearing masks to the market. Simple meals built from a pantry larder mean fewer trips out, and more satisfying, nourishing meals for my family.

I’ve been hoarding canned beans for years because they’re my go-to for speedy meals (chickpeas for my favorite pasta, cannellini beans for an Italian salad with tuna, black beans for breakfast tacos). But, I still prefer the texture and flavor of dried beans that I cook myself. To mix things up, I seek out gorgeous, speckled heirloom varieties online (my favorite sources, below). I still find comfort standing over a simmering pot of beans, wooden spoon in hand, cutting the heat when they’re just tender — but not mushy — and allowing them to cool in their broth to achieve a perfectly creamy texture. There’s even more pleasure in watching my children devour brothy beans over rice, in tortillas, or on their own with a drizzle of olive oil. What follows is my basic method for cooking dried beans; however, I often change up the recipe to incorporate additional aromatics from the garden or vegetable drawer (e.g., herb sprigs, celery, carrots, chopped onion, or shallots) that I have on hand — feel free to do the same.

Brothy Scarlett Runner Beans

Serves 4 to 6, with delicious leftovers

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound Scarlett runner beans (or any variety you prefer)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Instructions

1. Rinse the beans thoroughly (removing any small stones or debris) and place them in a large pot. Add enough water to cover by 4 inches, along with the garlic cloves and bay leaves.

2. Bring the beans to a boil over medium-high heat and then cover the pot, reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Check a bean to gauge doneness and, if necessary, continue cooking, covered, until the beans are tender (but not falling apart and mushy).

4. When the beans are tender, salt the water to taste and simmer a few minutes more, as desired for consistency.

5. Allow the beans to cool in their broth and then serve in their broth with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, and freshly ground pepper.

Ways to Serve Cooked Beans:

  • Toss them with warm herb butter
  • Top with a dollop of pesto (any kind!)
  • Halved tomatoes, EVOO, salt, and pepper
  • Toss with cooked grains (such as quinoa), chopped vegetables, and vinaigrette

Make Better Beans:

  • Don’t salt the cooking water until the beans are tender
  • Allowing beans to cool in their broth helps create a tender, custardy texture
  • Serve brothy beans with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and drizzle of olive oil
  • For a richer flavor and creamy broth, simmer white beans with a Parmesan rind.

Brilliant Bean Sources:

Tags: Photo, Healthy Recipes, Vegan Recipes, Quick Recipe Ideas, Quick Recipes for Dinner, Sunday Dinner Ideas, Comfort Food Recipes

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Written By

Paula Disbrowe

Paula Disbrowe writes about the endless adventure of food and travel. Her stories have taken her to vanilla plantations in... See Full Bio

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