Monday, January 25, 2010

You... You Bean Eater, You!

On the whole, I'd have to say that a career built around the academic calendar is a good thing. Lots of 3-day weekends, plenty of holiday breaks and flexible summer hours. If it weren't for the students, universities would be ideal working environments. (I kid, I kid!)

After returning to New York from Pop O'Food's desert pleasure palace, I had an extra week between Christmas and New Year before our offices re-opened. I was just full of energy. I exhausted that winter surplus in a 3-day burn of transformation. My apartment went from retro college dorm room to a New World Order of tidiness. Anything that hadn't seen the light of day in six months or more went straight down the garbage chute, no exceptions, save for this one: I stumbled on a stack of Cook's Illustrated magazines tucked behind some old day planner binders. Are you familiar with this periodical? You should be. It's sort of a stand-alone companion guide to America's Test Kitchen as seen on your local PBS station. The magazine is intuitive,  straightforward and always user-friendly. So, taking a little break between organizing bath linens and lining kitchen drawers, I did a little once-over twice with the recipes. I set aside about 8 magazines for further perusal. The remainder await an uncertain fate with the recycling bin, or maybe my ever-expanding recipe notebook. The jury's still out.
I was going stag on Long Island this weekend, a great excuse for pizza and Chinese food, but I resisted those ever-constant cravings. No, I would have a cold weather soup instead. Recipe author, Charles Kelsey, did admirable research for a cannellini bean stew, and in homage to those efforts, I put his recipe to the test. The title of this post is a half-hearted insult founded on Mr. Kelsey's claim that Tuscans are known as mangiafagioli, or "bean eaters", since legumes often top the bill of fare in Tuscany. The way I figure it, if it's good enough for Firenze, it's good enough for Southampton, so why not poke fun of it!
Fortuitously, I was in the mood for something hearty and (mostly) healthy. Something that would tide me over through Sunday afternoon without a lot of fuss or fancy ingredients. Kelsey's twist on a classic Tuscan dish was a long, slow baking at a low, low temperature, preventing beans from exploding into mush over too high a heat on the stovetop. He just may be on to something here.
Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew - adapted from Cook's Illustrated
  • Table salt
  • 1 lb dried cannellini beans, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin alive oil
  • 8 oz pancetta*, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, chopped medium
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ bunch kale or collard greens, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, drained and rinsed
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • Ground black pepper
  • Thick slices of rustic French or Italian bread, toasted

*If you are a reader from the hinterlands, Lewisburg, PA, for instance, replace pancetta with thick-cut bacon.

Dissolve 3 tablespoons of salt in 4 quarts of cold water in a large container. Add beans and soak at room temperature over night. Drain and rinse well.
Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 250° F. Heat oil and pancetta (I did say mostly healthy) in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is lightly browned and fat has rendered, 6-10 minutes. Add onion, celery and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, all their moisture is cooked off, and they are lightly browned, 10-15 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add broth, water, bay leaves and soaked beans. Increase heat to high and bring to a simmer. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook until beans are almost tender (very center of beans will still be firm), 60-75 minutes.
Remove pot from oven and stir in greens and tomatoes. Return pot to oven and continue to cook until beans and greens are fully tender, another 45-60 minutes.
Remove pot from oven and submerge rosemary sprig in stew. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Discard bay leaves and rosemary and season stew with salt and pepper to taste. If desired, use the back of a spoon or emersion blender to break down some of the beans and thicken the stew. Serve over thick toasted bread slices and drizzle with extra olive oil.
Hearty doesn't begin to describe this soup . Just try to imagine all those whole firm beans, substantial vegetables, salty pancetta and big garlic flavor. Now you're beginning to get the picture. I adjusted the recipe's cooking times just a bit as my beans were ever so slightly chewy at the first turn. I also nudged up the garlic intake. It is, after all, an Italian dish and I was alone. Who was gonna complain?
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food


Oriana said...

i read your post and love the sentence "but I resisted those ever-constant cravings" it is so like me! I think you would appreciate the last two recipes I posted, I also have a blog and what you ate is called Ribollita.

Blog O. Food said...

Thank you, Oriana. Ribolita. I'll remember that. - BOF