Savory bean dish is dinner-party worthy
Approximately 1,001 bean-related articles came out over the past few years. Topics included which dried beans were optimal to order online in packages you’d wipe down with antiseptic upon arrival, in what way to soak said beans for hours whilst trapped in your own home, and how to then cook those beans in the best possible manner so that the eating of them might momentarily stave off your feeling of impending doom.
Now we’ve got stockpiles of beans looking at us with their millions of beady little eyes from the cupboard. It’s beautiful!
Several recipes for The Best-Ever Beans that I tried out during the pandemic turned out sturdily good — a fine side dish or light supper, nothing superlative about them. Leaving beans behind for a bit seemed all right, cupboard side-eye notwithstanding.
Then our friends Bradley and Gillian had us over for dinner, and Bradley made beans, and they were, truly The Best Beans Ever. These were main-dish-dinner-party-worthy beans: Richly savory, they were somehow possessed of both a deeply satisfying simplicity and, if you thought about the beans while engulfing them, a little tantalizing complexity. These beans had an I-am-compelled-to-eat-these-beans quality that seems rare among beans.
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Bradley calls this recipe Tuscan- or Perugian-adjacent, but he got the idea to add vinegar after seeing that usage in Cuba. Choose any kind of dried beans you favor. I would submit that a larger-caliber bean, such as a scarlet runner or corona, adds to the grandeur here. He credits the plethora of olive oil deployed for the transcendent end result, but I’d say the umami from the anchovies (or their veg friend strong-and-salty olives) does a lot of lifting, too.
Bradley Sweek’s Best-Ever Beans
(Ahead-of-time-note: You’ll want to soak your beans – see step 1.)
1 pound dried beans (see note above and step 1)
Around 3 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon-ish vinegar — red wine, apple cider or whatever you have kicking around
About 1 1/2 cups decent-quality extra-virgin olive oil
1 2-ounce tin of anchovies, roughly chopped, with all their extra oil (for vegetarian/vegan friends, substitute about 4 ounces pitted and chopped oil-cured olives with their extra oil)
1 large shallot, minced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can of tomatoes
2-3 medium-to-large carrots, quartered and sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
About 1 tablespoon-plus fresh rosemary or sage (or use fresh basil in summertime)
Grated Parmesan, to garnish
If you can, soak the beans overnight in water with a couple inches extra to cover (and even 4 to 6 hours is good, too). Whether they are fresh dry beans or old ones, it won’t hurt and will always help.
Drain the beans and put them, the salt, the vinegar and almost a cup of olive oil — this is the key to the beans being really yummy and savory — in a large pot.
Add water to about 2 inches above the top of the beans, bring them to a boil for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn down to a simmer and cover with a lid. Check them every so often – you might need to add a little water here and there if the level is dropping below the beans. Use hot tap water or water from a simmering kettle, and it won’t drop the temperature too much.
Start checking after 40 minutes for tenderness, and meanwhile, keep going with the steps here. Your beans will take an hour or two, or possibly a little longer — they should be holding together but buttery-soft inside.
To a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 inch of olive oil, the anchovies/their oil and the shallot, then cook for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic. Add the tomatoes, carrots, your herb of choice and about 20 grinds of black pepper. Sauté over medium-high until bubbling, turn down to medium and cook for about 15 minutes until everything gets to know each other nicely, then take off the heat.
Just as your beans are ready, dump in your skilletful of goodness. Stir into the beans. Add another glug of olive oil. You can let this go on a simmer while you do other things — it will only get better.
Serve with lots of grated Parm.