Monday, December 27, 2010

Behold the humble bean (perfected)

I love beans.

Beans with garlic.

Beans with cheese.

Beans with rice. And cheese.

Hoppin' John (a New Year's Eve favorite).

Minestrone soup.

Lately I've been trying to cook dried beans into delicious dishes and my efforts have often fallen flat. Beans have been dry, undercooked, or broken and mushy.

Last night I saw on PBS an episode of "America's Test Kitchen" where they address the problems with cooking beans.

They first started by soaking the dry beans in brine (salt water), which they say, leads to softer skins. This is because the sodium allows more water to penetrate the skin, leading to a "softer texture." Because the water only penetrates the skin, this method does not affect the inside of the bean.

On the show, they made one of my favorite soups, Tuscan bean.

After soaking the dry cannellini beans overnight in brine (I used great northern, because that's what I had on hand), they cooked pancetta (I had bacon), and then sauteed onion, celery, and carrots, and, later, eight cloves of garlic for one minute, in the bacon and drippings. Then they poured in the soaked beans and bay leaves and brought to a simmer. They did not at any time allow the beans to boil, because this leads to rupture and loss of creamy texture. They then put the pot into a very slow oven (250 degrees) for 45 minutes.

Then they added kale (I had spinach) and a can of diced tomatoes and cooked for another 30 or so minutes.

Assuring that the beans were done (only achieved by tasting), they added salt, pepper, and rosemary (or other seasonings.)

The keys here are soaking the beans in brine, slow simmering in a warm oven, and adding the seasoning after the beans are done. I think these techniques can be applied to any bean dish.

In the new year I'm looking forward to many delicious, healthy bean dishes!

To access recipes on the America's Test Kitchen site you have to sign up.

I am happy that I did.

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