Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuscan Cranberry Bean Stew

Here is a fantastic recipe from the March 2008 issue of Cook's Illustrated. It does take a fair amount of time, but not effort, so just plan to make it on a day when you'll be hanging around the house anyway. The recipe calls for cannellini beans, and those would be fine, but I find cannellini ever-so-slightly mealy, much like their red kidney bean siblings. We are fortunate to have access to locally-grown beans. We get them fresh in their pods in the autumn and then can buy them dried in winter. We really like cranberry beans (also known as borlotti beans), as they're incredibly creamy. If you can't find them (I've never seen them in a grocery store), just use cannellini beans.

I did do the long brine for the beans, which I believe contributed to the well-balanced flavor and creamy texture. I've made the soup using canned beans before and it's perfectly acceptable, you'll just lose out a bit on the texture. I'm sure the short-brine would also be fine (half the amount of water and the same amount of salt heated to a boil then poured over the beans and steeped for 1 hour).

For the most part I followed the Cook's recipe as written, but there were a few modifications. I only had homemade turkey stock on hand, so I used that instead of chicken stock. I only had extra large cans of tomatoes in the house, and I used all of them rather than saving half for another purpose. Instead of pancetta, I used our 'house bacon', the tasty thick-cut pepper bacon we get from the butcher.

INGREDIENTS
1 lb dried cranberry beans, rinsed and picked over
3 TBSP salt (I used Diamond Crystal kosher salt
4 qt cold water
1 TBSP olive oil
6 oz pancetta or pepper bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces or lardons
1 large onion, chopped (I had some leeks on had so used those, too) 1 1/2 cups approx
2 medium celery ribs, chopped approx 1 cup
2 medium carrots, chopped approx 1 cup
8 medium garlic cloves, minced or put through a press (I used my mini-chopper)
4 c. chicken or turkey broth (low-sodium if using storebought)
3 c. water (I actually used 4 c. as I had a bit more than 1 lb. of beans)
2 bay leaves (I used 3 fresh ones)
1 bunch/1 lb. greens (I used lacinato kale aka dino kale or cavolo nero), trimmed and chopped
14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained and rinsed
1 sprig fresh rosemary

DIRECTIONS
  1. Dissolve the 3 TBSP salt in the 4 quarts of water. Add the beans and soak at room temp anywhere from 8 to 24 hours (I think I did about 16 hours). Drain and rinse the beans
  2. Make sure your oven rack is in the lower middle and then preheat the oven to 250 degrees
  3. In a Dutch oven or other large, lidded pot (that will eventually go into the oven), heat the oil on medium heat and cook the bacon/pancetta until the fat has rendered and it's golden brown
  4. Add the onion, celery and carrots and continue cooking until the vegetables are soft and lightly golden (10-16 minutes)
  5. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so until it's fragrant
  6. Add the broth, water, bay leaves, and beans to the pot, keeping it on the stove
  7. Turn up the heat to high and bring the stew to a simmer
  8. Cover the pot and put it into the oven. Cook until the beans are nearly done, 45 minutes to 1 hour
  9. Take the pot out of the oven to stir in the tomatoes and greens. Cover the pot again and return to the oven for a further 30-40 minutes. The beans should be fully tender and the greens nicely cooked
  10. Remove the pot from the oven a final time. Submerge the sprig of rosemary in the stew for 15 minutes with the pot covered
  11. Remove the rosemary and bay leaves and adjust the seasonings
  12. You can smash some of the beans on the side of the pot to thicken the broth if desired or even use an immersion blender. This time I did neither, since the beans were so creamy and tender that I didn't want to mess with them at all
  13. Serve with Delicious, Crusty Bread

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