Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Late Summer Soupy Beans

My refrigerator and freezer are starting to verge on survivalist territory; I am terrible at resisting gorgeous things at the farmers' market. I was determined to use up some of the delicious things lurking in my fridge and freezer for tonight's dinner. In particular, I wanted to showcase the dry pint of fresh, shelled cranberry beans I had picked up from Alm Hill. What I came up with was a riff on Tuscan bean stew that I will be doing my best to reproduce another day.

With fresh beans, I knew that I wouldn't have to cook them in the often to achieve the creamy texture we love so much. I wanted to maximize the flavor of the beans, so I brought out some roasted chicken stock. While I often make just plain chicken stock from raw bones, necks and other parts, I am also trying to have some broth made from roasted bones and wings on hand for those times when the broth really comes through. A recent dinner using whole wheat alphabet pasta in the turkey broth made from our Thanksgiving carcass was a revelation. That simple soup was unbelievably good. So, I cooked up the beans in 2 cups of the roasted chicken broth and just a bit of water to round it out and then went rooting around in the fridge for things to add to it. I'm sure that a good vegetable broth, ideally from roasted vegetables, would also work well for a vegetarian version.

Earlier in the week, I had cooked up a pint of cherry tomatoes according to Heidi Swanson's technique in Super Natural Every Day. (I'll include that in this post for those who are interested). I was sure those needed to be in my dish. Wanting to give Elspeth a bit of variety in her lunches, I had whipped up a batch of olive spread I had made using some of those roasted tomatoes. It occurred to me that the flavors might blend well with the beans, so I threw that in, too. Finally, nearly every savory dish I make has greens in it, so this was no exception. I took a handful of lacinato kale, ground it up in my mini chopper and pre-steamed it.

The end result of this somewhat unusual combination was fantastic. The flavor was very deep and it was hard to believe that there wasn't any bacon in the dish. I am pretty sure that the olive spread made the difference--bigger olive pieces wouldn't have worked as well. I love the idea of using olives to make a satisfying meatless dish. There was just enough broth left in the cooked beans to have us all slurping happily. Now I just have to hope that I can replicate it, maybe even with dried beans. (If using dried beans, I would definitely use the brining and oven-cooking technique from the Tuscan bean stew recipe and just add the tomato, olive, greens mixture once it came out of the oven).

ROASTED CHERRY TOMATOES
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/4 c. olive oil (I would reduce this by quite a lot when making again)
1 TBSP evaporated cane juice
1/2 tsp fine sea salt, or to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk the olive oil, salt and sugar together. Halve the cherry tomatoes and coat them with the olive oil mixture. Put the tomatoes cut-side up on a baking sheet. Roast in the upper third of the oven for 45-60 minutes or until the tomatoes are nicely caramelized and slightly shriveled. Store in the fridge and put any olive oil left on the baking tray into the jar or container along with the tomatoes.

SOUPY BEANS INGREDIENTS
1 dry pint fresh, shelled cranberry beans
2 c. roasted chicken or vegetable stock (unsalted)
1 tsp salt (omit if broth is salted)
1/4 c. water (approx--there needs to be enough liquid to cover beans by 1 inch)
1 recipe olive and tomato spread
1 recipe roasted cherry tomatoes (see above)
1/3 bunch dinosaur kale or other green, stems removed, ground or chopped finely, and pre-steamed and shocked in cold water
Dash smoked paprika
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

DIRECTIONS
  1. Rinse and pick through cranberry beans
  2. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with broth, adding water to cover by 1 inch if needed. Add the salt if broth is unsalted
  3. Bring beans to a boil over medium-high heat then lower to a simmer. Cook beans for 30-40 minutes, or until tender
  4. Meanwhile, combine roasted cherry tomatoes, olive spread, and pre-steamed kale in a small to medium saute pan. Warm over medium heat, adding paprika and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  5. When beans are soft and creamy, remove from heat and stir in the tomato, olive, kale mixture
  6. Serve with crusty bread or drop biscuits to sop up every last drop

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