Cooking Beans

Cook with what you have sounds nice but what should/would you like to have on hand? This is a fun and complex question. I’m going to tackle a small fragment of this question today. I’m going to talk about beans, white beans, and cooking them at home. A quick side note about dry beans. Here in the Portland area we are lucky to have a couple of very local sources of dried beans. Ayers Creek Farm sells their beans at the Hillsdale Farmers Market. The quality, flavor, varieties are unbeatable and worth seeking out. Sungold Farm sells pinto beans that are wonderfully sweat and creamy and are available at both the Portland Farmers Market and the Hillsdale Farmers Market. I have also had very good results with dry beans purchased from grocery stores, both bulk and packaged, so don’t let the possible lack of local beans deter you.

 

I love to cook beans. The taste is unbeatable; it’s simple to do once you’re in the habit; and if you cook large quantities at once and freeze them it’s as convenient as having canned beans on hand but with better flavor, less waste, less expense, etc. My routine, since I work from home, is to put several pounds of beans in a big bowl covered with water before I go to bed. The next morning I drain them, put them in a big pot with a couple of bay leaves, a chunk of onion and few peeled, whole garlic cloves and simmer them for 25-60 minutes depending on the bean. Small white ones like the navy beans in this picture tend to cook in about 25 minutes if they haven’t been sitting on a shelf for several years and chickpeas tend to take the longest, 45-55 minutes. When the beans are, salt them generously (like 2 teaspoons for 1 1/2 dry beans) tender turn off the heat and let the beans cool in their cooking liquid. This will even out their texture as some beans inevitable will be a little firmer than others, and improve their flavor. They will not, as counterintuitive as it may seem, disintegrate from sitting in the hot liquid.

For those of you who leave the house every day, you could put them to soak in the morning and then cook them while you’re making dinner. Once cooked, I strain them (reserving the liquid) and put them into pint and quart containers, pour the cooking liquid up to cover them (helps preserve them and it’s great liquid to keep if you’re going to make soup later on) and then freeze them. I do this with white, black and pinto beans and chickpeas regularly. Oh and on the perpetual question of when to salt the beans you’re cooking, I have long gone with the recommendation of John Willoughby from a piece in Gourmet years ago where he debunked the theory of not salting until they’re cooked. So, I salt at the beginning with great results but if you have a different method with which you are happy, by all means stick with that.

So what to do with all those “bean popsicles,” as a student of mine once called them? The frozen beans thaw quickly in a pan over high heat with a bit of water. I just thawed a pint for my lunch in about 5 minutes this way.

 

 

Of course if you have the presence of mind to take them out of the freezer a few hours or a day ahead of time, great. They keep well in the fridge for the better part of a week. So, for the above lunch I mashed some garlic with salt, sautéed for a minute, added a can of tomatoes, broke those up a bit, added oregano and cooked over high heat for a about five minutes. I then added the thawed beans and heated those through. Some black pepper and a little olive oil to finish and voila!  This makes a delicious light lunch or side dish mixed with pasta and maybe some sausage a hearty and quick dinner.

 

 

You could also toss the beans with some tuna, parsley, capers, finely chopped onion and a vinaigrette with plenty of red-wine vinegar and/or lemon juice. (For another local pitch, I love Oregon Albacore available at local grocery stores and farmers markets.) Or you could mash the beans with some lemon zest, juice, garlic, olive oil and a little rosemary or thyme and have a hearty spread. Or you could make a soup with kale, other veggies, sausage and white beans. The options really are vast.

 

 

 

I’d love to hear from you on this subject. Do you cook beans? What do you do with them? Have you found it easy? Too much effort? Not satisfactory? Beans too mushy or crunchy?

Happy bean cooking and thanks for reading!

P.S. I’m going to be teaching a 3-part series in January on pantry stocking and cooking quick meals similar to the ones described above in case you’re interested.

Stuffed and Roasted Pumpkin

This is the most delicious, beautiful fall dish. It’s perfect for a regular old dinner (though it does take almost 2 hours to bake so maybe a weekend dinner) or a Thanksgiving treat. But it’s so easy and so adaptable that you should add it to your regular repertoire. It’s wonderful with cooked rice instead of bread, additions of cooked spinach or chard, cooked sausage . . .

Serves 6

 

Pumpkin Stuffed and Roasted
–adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table

 

1 pie pumpkin, about 4 – 5 lbs (just adjust the amount of filling if your pumpkin is smaller or larger – though you don’t want to go too much larger as it takes awfully long to cook)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 lb (or slightly more) stale bread, sliced and cut into ½-inch chunks
1/3 lb cheese, such as sharp cheddar, Gruyère, Emmenthal or a combination, cut into ½ chunks or grated
2-4 garlic cloves (to taste), finely chopped
2-4 slices bacon, diced and cooked until just crisp
¼ cup chives or sliced scallions (green onions), thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
½ cup of cream or half and  half
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

 

Preheat oven to 350F.

 

You can using a baking sheet, a pie pan (as seen above), or a dutch oven with a diameter that’s just a tiny bit larger than your pumpkin. If you bake the pumpkin in a casserole, it will keep its shape, but might stick to the casserole, so you’ll have to serve it from the pot which is fine too.

 

Using a sturdy knife, cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin. Cut a big enough cap that it’s easy to hollow out the inside. Scrape out the seeds and strings from the cap and the inside of the pumpkin. Rub the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper and put it on the baking sheet, pie pan or in a pot.

 

In a large bowl toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs together. Season with pepper and salt and pack the filling into the cavity. The pumpkin should be well filled—you might have a little too much filling, or you might  need to add to it. Stir the cream, milk and nutmeg with a bit of salt and pepper and pour it into the filled pumpkin. You want the liquid to come about half-way up the cavity. It’s hard to go wrong though. Better a little wetter than too dry.

 

Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours—check after 90 minutes—or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove the cap for the last 20  minutes or so of baking to brown the top and let any extra liquid evaporate. Transfer carefully to a serving platter if you baked it on a sheet. Serve, scooping out plenty of pumpkin with each serving or serve it in slices.

 

Pie

Blackberry Pie and Pie-crust Cookies

I’m teaching a pie class (sweet and savory) this Sunday, November 14. I am a bit evangelical about pie. I love to bake most anything but there is something about pie that appeals to the minimalist in me. Just flour, butter and water for that crust and apples, a little sugar and thickener for the filling and the sum of those few things is just so much more than you’d expect. But there are a few tricks to pie and we’re going to tackle that all-butter pie crust and crimping those edges (that inevitably do sag in places when baked thanks to all that delicious butter!) and getting the filling cooked just right.  We’re going to fill those crusts with apples, pumpkin, and Swiss Chard and eat our results.

And for all that hard work we’re going to be rewarded with eggnog–my grandfather’s recipe with bourbon, rum and nutmeg–and of course eggs, cream and milk–completely unrelated to the stuff in cartons at the store.

Swiss Chard Tart

My family (extended) has a thing about pies. At Thanksgiving, ever since I can remember, we’ve had a pie-eating contest. Slightly vulgar, I admit, but oh so fun and delicious unless you over do it and then you need a serious recovery period. Here’s a photo from last year’s pie (and tarts and cake) line-up sans my mother’s pumpkin chiffon and chocolate pies which were probably still in the fridge. Not a very good photo but I guess I wasn’t thinking about blog-worthy photos in the moment.  I should add that the contest is not highly competitive and is informally held over many hours and tiny slivers (especially of rich things like pecan pie) count. There’s a lot more talk than actual keeping track. And since my aunt Jane (or her daughter Martha) almost always win it’s not much of a nail-biter.

From l to r, Chocolate Tart, Pumpkin Bourbon Tart; Chocolate Guinness Cake, Brandied Dried Fruit Tart, Blackberry Pie, Apple Pie, Pecan Pie, Mince Pie

The sum total was 11 pies and tarts last year and we probably had 18 people for Thanksgiving. That is an obscene ratio! However, we all get to have pie for breakfast and lunch the following day and everyone gets to go home with a quarter of this and a few slices of that. And contrary to some opinions, misshapen, slightly soggy and less than perfect looking slices of pie are just as tasty or more so, than those pristine ones on day one!

As you can see, Thanksgiving is not strictly limited to pie. My sister-in-law and one of my cousins and I always bring some other tart or cake we just have to try. Some of us read the same cooking magazines/blog and occasionally end up bringing the same new idea–a dense chocolate hazelnut tart one year and a pumpkin cheese cake another. My mother and my aunt Jane have their standards and there would be mutiny if any of those were missing. For Jane that’s lofty apple pies and dense, gooey pecan; for my mother it’s those pumpkin chiffon pies and chocolate pies with lots of whipped cream. Actually all the pies are served with lots of whipped cream–probably thanks to the heavy German influence of the bunch. I tend to contribute a traditional pumpkin pie, a mince pie (my favorite recipe is from the Grand Central Baking book), and apple pie or something like a pear frangipane tart.

Speaking of not-so-beautiful: Rhubarb Pie never sets up well but is so good. It's much better to have a delicious pie than a beautiful pie, though the combination is unbeatable!

So whether you can make it to class on Sunday or not, give pie a try if you’ve been hesitant and let me know how it goes. And if you have questions or want tips or have tips to share from your pie-baking adventures, leave a comment here.

Happy baking!