Seasonal Chef: Really, beans from scratch are just that easy!

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Dry beans, you find them in the relatively non-descript aisle at the the supermarket, usually positioned right next to the canned beans. You’re probably saying to yourself, “why bother? the canned ones are here and ready to use.” Truth be told I would have agreed with you a half dozen years ago too. Don’t get me wrong, I use the canned variety regularly, and highly encourage everyone to always have a good selection of them in the pantry. They are definitely a “go-to” ingredient when you need a protein boost, in a snap. They are a great addition to salads and soups, bar none. However, every now and then it’s nice to cook a pot of beans from scratch. Not only is it a cozy and gratifying experience, but what you end up with is a delicate full flavor creamy bean.

I know what you’re saying: the soaking … the cooking .. who has time?? The nice thing about cooking beans is they pretty much do it themselves with very little hands-on attention. They are the perfect thing to make on a Saturday morning while you’re multi-tasking around the house.  Aside from the satisfaction you get, the cost value can’t be beat! Two cups of dry beans equals about 8 cups cooked.

The first step is to soak them, and that happens the night before. Using a plastic container or glass bowl. Add cool water to your beans, in a 4:1 ratio. Set them up right before you go to bed on the counter or in the ‘fridge. The next morning rinse them off  and place in a heavy bottom pot and fill with cool water about 3 inches above the beans. I like using a variety of a aromatics while cooking: celery , carrot, onion, garlic and thyme. “Aromatics” are ingredients you cook with that will add flavor, but will be discarded after they have served their purpose. You don’t have to add them, it’s just a nice add-on.

This is the part where you can walk away for a bit. Bring the pot to a rolling boil, lower to a medium boil and set your timer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes come back and check two things: first see if you need to add water, and second take one out and check the texture. You probably will need another 10-15 minutes of cooking. Just about every time I make beans, and soak for about 8 to 10 hours, the cooking time is 40 to 45 minutes. Once the beans are just slightly al dente I take them off the heat and remove the aromatics I used. The carryover cooking will finish them to perfection.

Now is the time to season them. If you remember my post a few weeks ago about cooking lentils, I mentioned that I learned to properly cook beans in the Tarry Lodge kitchen. Salt comes after the beans are cooked, not during. At that point you want to add a teaspoon at a time until you get the perfect flavor. Simply add and stir. Let them absorb the salt slowly, then taste. The amount of water in the pot, will determine the amount of salt you need. Just remember, you can add, but you can’t remove – so patience in this step will be the big reward!

That’s basically it, you’re done. All you need to do is take your big beautiful pot of delicious creamy beans and cool them completely. Place them in a plastic or glass container, covered with their cooking liquid. They will keep for 3-5 days, in the ‘fridge, as long as they are covered completely with their liquid and in an airtight container. If you are not going to use them right away you can also freeze them.

More after the jump … 

This week my plan was to use them in a couple of ways: I knew for sure they would be utilized in a pot of Ribollita soup, but immediately I had an idea for them along with some spinach I needed to use up.

On Saturday I took a trip to Penzey’s in their Norwalk, CT location. If you’ve never been, you simply must make the journey. They have just about any herb or spice you can imagine. For me it’s like being a kid in a candy store! I particularly like their spice blends. Some have up to a dozen things blended together. I picked up two new ones this week: Parisien Bonnes Herbs and Trinidad-style Marinade.  On my way home I popped into Port Chester Seafood and spotted a beautiful branzino in the case. The whole fish was about a pound, which Lou broke down to these beautiful filets.

This dinner literally took me 20 minutes to make, if that. I seasoned the fish with a drizzle of olive oil and the spice mix, skin-side down on a non-stick tray, and set it aside. The spice blend I was using already has salt in it, so no need to add more. While the oven was preheating I sautéed onion and garlic and then added the spinach. I placed the fish in the oven when the spinach went into the pan.

Once the spinach wilted I tossed in the beans and lowered the heat. You just want the beans to warm through. The fish filets took no more than 5 minutes to cook, because they were thin and light.

Simply divide up the spinich-bean mixture between the plates and top with the filet. Give it a little drizzle of a nice fruity  olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Dinner in a snap, plus you have more beans for another night.

I would love to hear if you try making beans .. send me a note and let me know how they turn out.

Buon Appetito!

 

Cannellini Beans from Scratch

Prep Time: 9 hours, 15 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 10 hours

Yield: 8 cups of cooked beans

Cannellini Beans from Scratch

Homemade beans are easy and the result very rewarding. Try them this weekend!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dry beans
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 celery stalk, trimmed and cut in half
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 small onion, cut in half
  • 1-2 branches of fresh thyme
  • Kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Place the beans in a glass or plastic container and fill with 8 cups of cool water. Let them soak overnight, for up to 8 hours.
  2. Rinse and place in a heavy bottom pot filled with cool water, covering the beans by 3 inches. Add the vegetables and thyme (your aromatics) and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to a low boil and set your timer for 30 minutes.
  3. At 30 minutes check to see if you need to add water. The beans should continue to cook with at least 2 inches of water over them. Taste one and check the texture. If they are still relatively firm set the time for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Check the beans again and when they are just al dente turn off the heat and remove the aromatics. The carry-over cooking will finish the beans.
  5. Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and mix gently with a wooden spoon. Wait a few minutes and taste a bean. Continue adding salt a little at at time until you get the flavor desired. Depending on the amount of water you have, you may need up to a tablespoon of salt. Patience is needed in this step - remember, you can always add salt, you can't remove it!
  6. Allow the beans to cool completely in the pot. Place them in an airtight plastic or glass container covered with with cooking liquid. They will keep in your 'fridge for 3-5 days. If not using by then, divide up into smaller container and freeze, for up to 2 months.
  7. Remember to gently rinse them before using.

Notes

Total cooking time includes inactive soaking overnight and cooling down.

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Branzino Filet over Sautéed Spinach and Beans

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

Branzino Filet over Sautéed Spinach and Beans

A perfect quick weeknight meal, this dinner will be cooked and on the table in 20 minutes.

Ingredients

  • 4 branzino filets
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Penzey's Trinidad Garlic-Lemon Marinade
  • 1 small onion, 1/4" dice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 16 oz fresh baby spinach
  • 2 cups cooked cannellini beans
  • Fruity finishing olive oil
  • Scallions, thinly sliced for garnish
  • 1 small lemon, quartered with the seeds removed

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Over medium heat saute the onions and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of kosher salt and ground black pepper, for about 3-5 minutes.
  3. While the onions are cooking season the filets with olive oil and a sprinkling of the spice blend, on the flesh side. If you don't have the blend above, look for a nice blend in the supermarket. McCormick's sells a few. Take care to note if the blend includes salt. If not, add a little to the filet before cooking. Place on a non-stick baking sheet skin side down.
  4. Once the onions begin to caramelize add the spinach and toss until wilted, about 2 minutes. At that same time place the filets in the oven and set the timer for 5 minutes.
  5. Add the beans and lower the heat. Toss together and allow the beans to warm through.
  6. Check the filets after 5 minutes. They should be cooked through. Remove from oven and cover loosely with foil.
  7. Divide the bean-spinach mixture between four plates and top with each filet. Drizzle with a nice fruity olive oil and garnish with scallions. Serve immediately with the lemon quarter.
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Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina comes to the world of food as a third career, spending a great portion of her adult life in the field of Human Resources. With her private company Bella Cucina Maria she is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Westchester. She’s an avid food television watcher and cookbook collector, always looking for a new take on a traditional dish. In her free time she loves hanging out at local farmers, chatting it up with the farmers and doing cooking demos with their seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog, which is loaded with easy recipes, you can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest. Maria lives in Port Chester with her husband Larry and their taste tester Cocoa.

 

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About Author

Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina comes to the world of food as a third career, spending a great portion of her adult life in the field of Human Resources. With her private company Bella Cucina Maria she is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Westchester. She's an avid food television watcher and cookbook collector, always looking for a new take on a traditional dish. In her free time she loves hanging out at local farmer's markets, chatting it up with the farmers and doing cooking demos with their seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog, which is loaded with easy recipes, you can follow her on Facebook (Bella Cucina Maria), Twitter (Bellacucinam), Instagram (Bellacucinam) and Pinterest (Bellacucinam).

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