Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Winter White Beans

Although white beans and other legumes make excellent year round eating, I especially appreciate the rich creamy quality of white beans during the cooler months. I'm not sure why people believe that cooking beans from scratch is difficult; there are few foods which are simpler to prepare. But be warned that once you've tasted home cooked beans, those canned ones will never appeal to you again.

This recipe for winter white beans can be made with cannellini, navy, or lima beans. Soak beans overnight or for at least 6 hours; this reduces cooking time. I often start to soak beans in the morning so that by late afternoon they're ready to cook. (If your plans change after you've begun the soaking process, just drain the beans and add fresh water; they'll store well in the fridge for up to a day or two). It takes only a few minutes to put this recipe together; once the beans are simmering on the stove, they require minimal attention. Some batches of beans cook more quickly than others; simply check them periodically for tenderness.

2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup leek, thinly sliced
3/4 cup celery, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 whole carrots
1 bay leaf
1 whole dried red chile pepper
2 cups cannellini beans, soaked & drained
5- 6 cups fresh water
1 teaspoon dried sage leaves (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon white miso paste

Saute leek, celery, and garlic in olive oil in a heavy bottomed soup pot until fragrant and golden. Add all remaining ingredients except miso paste. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook on a low flame for about an hour, stirring occasionally. There should be enough liquid in the pot at all times to cover the beans; add a bit of water if necessary. Use a flame tamer to prevent scorching. Beans should be completely tender when done, but ideally not mushy. When beans are done, turn off flame and remove bay leaf, chile pepper, and carrots. Dissolve miso paste in a small bowl with some broth from the beans and stir into pot. Taste and correct seasoning. Store beans in clean glass jars in fridge; they will keep well for a week or longer and may be heated in minutes for a quick delicious meal.

Serving suggestions: White beans pair well with almost any steamed leafy green vegetable. For a one-dish meal, place a serving of beans in a warm bowl and top with a few tablespoons of freshly steamed greens like arugula, spinach, chard, or kale. Or try a bowl of steaming hot beans garnished with a handful of fresh chopped cilantro and a little Louisiana hot sauce.