Sweet & Sour Beans Cozy Enough for Spring Chills

April 10, 2018

Every so often, we scour the site for cool recipes from our community that we then test, photograph, and feature—this one comes from longtime Food52er cookinginvictoria.

Almost everyone I know is ready to welcome spring. I feel the same way, but still cling to the cooler weather about to depart. I am not quite ready to say goodbye to winter ragus or slow-braised stews.

This recipe has become one of my favorite way to bridge the seasons. It offers all of the delicious, warming comforts of a slow braise for those chilly gray days that are part of springtime in Victoria, but also includes some of the bounty I am starting to see in my garden.

A comforting meal that straddles seasons. Photo by Luzena Adams

I initially chose borlotti beans because their stunning, rosy speckles caught my eye in my favorite local Italian food store. I took a bag home, discovered Thomas Keller's Borlotti Bean Ragu, and instantly fell in love—they have a lovely nutty flavor that pairs quite well with the agrodolce sauce. If you don’t have borlotti beans, Rancho Gordo regular cranberry beans, Cannellini, or any pale-colored heirloom bean would be great choices, too.

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This dish has several components, but most of them can be made ahead of time. In fact, the flavor of beans improves when they are cooked a day in advance. While I always have canned beans in the cupboard for quick pantry dinners, I am in the dried-beans-are-definitely-superior camp. The beans are the star ingredient in this dish, so I recommend always using dried beans here.

I experimented with a variety of different tomato roasting techniques and I found the quick broiling method from Nancy Harmon Jenkins and Zuni Café’s Judy Rogers to be best. It delivers maximum flavor, especially when using not-yet-local tomatoes—I often make them with supermarket cherry or grape tomatoes in the winter. .

The agrodolce is my version of an old-school Sicilian sauce traditionally made with vinegar and sugar. I use a local wildflower honey and add shallots for a boost of flavor. I love the contrast of the sweet and sour notes of this sauce and how it can perk up just about any dish, particularly this stew, with its earthy, soft beans, peppery greens, creamy grits, and bursts of blistered tomato.

Do you have a recipe that's been passed down in your family? Or one you want to make sure your future generations make? Let us know in the comments and it might be featured as one of our heirloom recipes!