Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Unbaked Beans

Unbaked Beans
This is one of my "go to" meals when making dinner seems like an insurmountable chore.  I always have the ingredients in the cupboard and it is pretty easy, so much so that I am tempted to add a peasy into that description.  It is a great meal for learning about the elastic nature of recipes, just about every ingredient can be successfully substituted.
For a guide on my recipe notation, see this blog entry.
Unbaked Beans refers to the fact that this dish isn't baked, just simmered on the hob.
I like to use my 30cm (12 in) cast iron French braiser pan but any large saucepan over 3.5L (3.5 quarts) will do, even a stockpot will suffice.  A cocotte (Dutch oven) is ideal.  The broad, heavy base on my braiser rips through the cooking with great haste.  It also rips through Athena's wrist joints when washing up, these things are medieval in their heft.  Hopefully bionic arms are available on Medicare when geriatric atrophy kicks in, I can't imagine cooking without cast iron any more.

Firstly, render in the heated pan until nearly crispy
2 bacon rashers
You can substitute speck for the bacon if you want a smokier flavour.  I prefer speck.  Pancetta is wonderful but I avoid it a bit now because it became like crack cocaine in my kitchen.  Every meal screamed out for pancetta. I dreamed about the stuff every sleeping and waking moment. I threw a box of corn flakes at the grocer, fell to my knees and tore my clothes when the store ran out; he said I would have to wait for the mid-morning delivery van and I sobbed like a little girl who saw a puppy truck explode.

But I am okay now...*cold shiver*
Chopped tomato, garlic, carrot and onion

Add to the bacon in the sizzling pan
Olive oil, for frying 
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic 

When the onion is soft, deglaze the pan with
1/3C white wine
 You can use red wine if you like but I prefer the lightness of the white in this dish.

Once the alcohol is boiled off (sniff around the pan for a change in wine aroma), add
300ml (3/4 pint) passata
Passata is a tomato cooking sauce.  You can use more or less as needed.  Another option for richer flavour is to add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste as well.

Instead of passata, a 400g (14oz) can of crushed tomatoes, or 500g (1lb) of fresh tomatoes can be used. The fresh tomatoes give the best result but they take a lot longer to cook down, as well as costing a bit more.

I also added
1 tomato, diced
This freshens the dish up a little.  It is optional, add none, add three, I'm not going to pressure you in any way (add four and I will hunt you down...and still do nothing),

 This is also a good time to add any herbs you like.  Fennel, bay, basil, rosemary, thyme all work well in any combination.  I also like sage. but I add that with the onion at the start.

Now for a secret weapon: meatballs. Add these to the simmering sauce.
4 Italian sausages, meatballised...
Meatballs, made from Italian sausage meat
From top, clockwise: navy, borlotti, cannelini and butter beans
Take the sausages and carefully cut a shallow line down the entire length, just deep enough to pierce the skin.  Remove the skin to reveal a log of herbed sausage meat.  Yummo.  Cut the log of sausage meat into little thumbnail size pieces.  They don't have to be perfect balls, leave them rustic.

 Simmer until the sauce collapses.  The carrots should be mushy, any fresh tomatoes should be dissolved, ensure the meatballs are cooked through.

 Depending on taste, you can soften the sauce in flavour and colour by adding
1/4C cream
Now for some beans!
4 400g (14 oz) cans of beans 
 I like to use butter, borlotti, cannelini and navy beans, but you can use just about any bean(s) you like.

Cover and simmer until the beans are heated through.  Season to taste.

Serve with toasted Turkish bread or a nice loaf of schinkenbrot,

Unbaked Beans with toasted Turkish bread

  • Make sure the final product isn't gluggy.  Add some water near the end to loosen up the sauce.
  • You can use dried beans if you plan far enough ahead.  I have done this several times but found the extra work didn't pay off enough to forgo the convenience of tinned beans, even with a pressure cooker.
  • Don't be tempted to leave the sausage skin on and don't be tempted to fry the sausage before adding it to the sauce to simmer.  If you do either or both of those things, the meatballs will be tough and rubbery.  Yech!
  • Tomatoes can add acid do a dish. If this happens, add a few pinches of sugar when seasoning.
  • Sprinkle freshly grated parmesan before serving in winter.

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