“I find myself grateful for things that simply cook themselves.” –Laurie Colwin, More Home Cooking
So how to begin? Slowly and simply, of course.
We all need recipes in our repertoire that are multitaskers, especially when we are trying to simplify matters in our kitchens and get back to basics. Recipes that can begin as one delicious dish and be completely transformed the next day into something new. A pot of beans is just that sort of thing. Delicious, brimming with nutrition, easy on the wallet and incredibly versatile, dried beans are a cook’s best friend. They store beautifully in a dry cool place, a jar in your pantry perhaps, waiting patiently to be simmered into something lovely on a quiet weekend afternoon.
Dried beans are most definitely a slow food. They take time to prepare, but not much more. A pot, water and salt are all you need to transform the humble dried bean into something creamy, warm and satisfying. And while they simmer in your oven, you may go about your business. Since the beans are doing the work, I suggest that you feel free to take this time to read a novel, enjoy a steaming cup of tea, or write a lovely poem about the beauty of this moment, this simmering pot of beans, the quiet sacred space that is your kitchen on this sunny afternoon. Let slow cooking nurture you, not only with the delicious beans that will inevitably be your reward, but also by creating time and space in which to just be for a little while. Peek into the pot from time to time, give them a stir and check them occasionally to see if they are tender and creamy. This is all that they ask of you.
Creamy White Beans
The very industrious people who work at America’s Test Kitchen came up with the brilliant idea to brine beans in a mixture of salt and water overnight rather than simply soaking them in water alone. This technique yields a very flavorful and softly-textured bean.
1 pound dried cannellini beans, picked over for small stones or other foreign material and rinsed in a strainer
3 tablespoons table salt
4 quarts cold water
Combine salt and water in a large bowl. Stir to dissolve. Add dried beans and allow to sit at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours.
Cooking the Beans:
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Remove beans from the brine and rinse thoroughly in a strainer. Pour beans into a large pot. Cover with fresh cold water by 2 inches. Set pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cover and slip into the oven to simmer gently until tender, 1-2 hours. Add more water if necessary during cooking to keep the beans fully submerged.
Using the Beans:
Allow the beans to cool slightly. You may then drain your beans and use them right away, or you may cool them in their liquid and refrigerate or freeze them for later use. I recommend freezing in smaller portions, maybe 3 or 4 cups of beans and liquid per package.
- Simmering the beans in the oven at a lower temperature rather than on the stove top helps the beans cook slowly and evenly and prevents them from bursting and falling apart.
- The freshness of the particular dried beans you are using will impact how long it takes to cook them. The older the bean, the longer it will take to become tender.