Genius Recipes

Extra-Creamy Beans From Scratch—Without Babysitting

This week’s Genius Recipe stems from the Tuscan tradition of throwing a flask of beans in the embers (without needing a flask or embers).

June 17, 2020

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


I know how easy cooking dried beans should be. Not to mention cheap, fortifying, delicious. I’ve preached to patient loved ones how much I love simmering beans from scratch, and that a big tub in the fridge for the week fills me with pride and relief.

So creamy! Photo by Kristen Miglore

And still. That sack of cannellini I stuck in my pantry three months ago as I started sheltering in place didn’t budge, while pasta and rice and plenty of tins of chickpeas fed us with the immediacy I seemed unable to think past.

Perhaps my reluctance was because nearly every pot of beans I’ve made—soaked and unsoaked, low-touch and thrice-boiled—has simmered on the stovetop. And, just as often, boiled wildly, then stopped and gone to sleep when I wasn’t looking. (You too?)

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“When I started the pot of beans, I covered them with water and I may have added too much of it because the end product after cooking seemed like I had a ton of liquid in the pot. Is there nice way to use up this extra liquid, perhaps as a base in another soup? My son and husband loved the recipe, although I don't think I used enough salt to season them, so they were a bit bland tasting at first. Lastly, I had some Trader Joe's spicy italian chicken sausage that I took out of the casings, sliced up, and browned in the frypan. I then later added the sausage to the beans while I kept them warm, on low, in the oven until dinnertime. I think they added a nice meaty touch to the beans, but honestly could probably have omitted and the beans would be lovely on their own. It was fun to make them from scratch--I'd forgotten how much pleasure one gets from cooking up a simple bag of beans. Thank you for sharing the recipe and technique.”
— Marti
Comment

Keeping my beans on track, however simple it might be, requires a level of sustained attention I haven’t been able to offer up lately. And while I’ve heard special equipment like Instant Pots and Crock-Pots and pressure cookers can lend a hand, they also require shelf space many of us don’t have.

5-ingredient alchemy (olive oil missed the photo shoot).

But then I remembered this technique from Rachel Roddy, the English food writer and Guardian columnist living in Rome, for rich and creamy beans braised in the oven. It’s inspired by the gentle Tuscan method of cooking al fiasco, in a flask in the dying embers of a fire (or a pizza oven, cooling for the night)—similar in spirit if not flavor to Boston baked beans and the Native American techniques that preceded them.

Worry not—you don’t need a pizza oven or a fire or even a flask. Just a pot, oven, and any dried beans you fancy.

Beans that behave—even when you're not looking.

This oven technique maintains a consistent, barely shimmying simmer without ever needing to check in on it. In about an hour and a quarter (depending on the variety and age), the beans are buttery and yielding; the broth good enough to drink. This is in part thanks to the laidback bake with olive oil, sage, and whole garlic cloves, but also a more brusque endnote: fishing out the cloves and squeezing out the sweet, softened paste to melt into the bean liquor.

And now that I love (and I hope you love) cooking beans from scratch again, all we need is more inspiration for what to do with them. Below is a start.


Genius ways to use your beans

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to my former Food52 teammate (and Senior Writer for the Education Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations), Annie Crabill for this one!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kim Snader
    Kim Snader
  • Marti
    Marti
  • Jan gautro
    Jan gautro
  • Kirsten
    Kirsten
  • Jeanne
    Jeanne
Comment
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

62 Comments

Kim S. June 22, 2020
I made these last night with black beans and Bell's seasoning, because that was what I had on hand and it's mostly ground sage. Served it as a warm salad with roasted butternut squash and farro over lightly dressed greens accompanied by cheesy baked polenta. Super yummy!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Sounds delicious—thanks for sharing, Kim!
 
Marti June 19, 2020
I made these for dinner last night. I used fresh rosemary (because I had it on hand), and threw in 5-6 cloves of garlic (three seemed like not enough). When I started the pot of beans, I covered them with water and I may have added too much of it because the end product after cooking seemed like I had a ton of liquid in the pot. Is there nice way to use up this extra liquid, perhaps as a base in another soup? My son and husband loved the recipe, although I don't think I used enough salt to season them, so they were a bit bland tasting at first. Lastly, I had some Trader Joe's spicy italian chicken sausage that I took out of the casings, sliced up, and browned in the frypan. I then later added the sausage to the beans while I kept them warm, on low, in the oven until dinnertime. I think they added a nice meaty touch to the beans, but honestly could probably have omitted and the beans would be lovely on their own. It was fun to make them from scratch--I'd forgotten how much pleasure one gets from cooking up a simple bag of beans. Thank you for sharing the recipe and technique.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Yum, thanks so much for sharing, Marti. And yes, bean broth is a great base to start other soups, braises, pasta sauces—anything you want to add some flavor and body to.
 
Jan G. June 19, 2020
Made these yesterday & they were AMAZING ❤️😋thanks for this wonderful recipe! I used large Lima’s from Rancho Gordo & they were dreamy good!!!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Wonderful, thanks for letting us know, Jan!
 
Kirsten June 19, 2020
A lovely recipe that was so simple and satisfying and pleasing to family. My new favorite.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Wonderful!
 
Jeanne June 18, 2020
I made these today. They're addictive. After skimming some off for freezing, I added greens to the rest, with all the delicious broth. With some slices of vegan apple sage sausage, a bit of rice and some good bread, dinner is ready. Thank you so much for a lovely recipe, which is so much easier than the usual way that I do cannellini beans, and a whole lot better. Oh, and I used a cast iron casserole for top of the stove and oven cooking,the same one I use for baking bread. And doubled the recipe because I had a lot of beans so took an extra 15 minutes or so in the oven.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
So happy to hear this, Jeanne, and love your add-in ideas.
 
Slapjack June 18, 2020
This is an amazing dish. I make it often.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Thanks, Slapjack!
 
Lexica June 18, 2020
Russ Parsons's oven-baked method (similar but doesn't include the garlic cloves) has been my favorite way of making beans for years, so I'm looking forward to trying this! Thanks, Kristen!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Good to know, Lexica—thank you!
 
Virginia June 18, 2020
Delicious, easy, and fun to make. Added quite a bit of kosher salt--don't be shy!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Very good point, Virginia.
 
LaurieLewis June 17, 2020
Found an answer to the foam skimming issue: Simmering beans typically produce a frothy cap of foam. It’s innocuous stuff that’s nothing more than tiny pockets of air surrounded by a thin layer of water that are stabilized by proteins exuded from the beans that dissolve in the water. While they won’t harm the beans, we typically skim the foam off for a clearer appearance.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Thanks so much, Laurie.
 
gretchen G. June 17, 2020
Just overcooked my cannellini beans the other night for just the reason that you mention in the video, Kristen -- didn't pay attention to what was happening on the stovetop. Can't wait to try this recipe. The video makes the recipe seem accessible and is inspiring.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Thanks so much, Gretchen—glad to hear I'm not alone.
 
Pamela_in_Tokyo June 17, 2020
Thank you for this very nice video and this very nice way of cooking beans. I’m sure it will be very useful but I want to add a word of caution.

I was looking up John Thorne and his book POT ON THE FIRE, which was mentioned in another reader’s comments. I wanted to find out more about beans as I love beans. And I was so happy to read about Food 52’s method of cooking beans in the oven which looks so wonderful. And is still wonderful I think. But,....

I found a site talking about John Thorne’s method but also cautioned that you do have to BOIL RED KIDNEY BEANS FOR 10 to 30 MINUTES, because THEY HAVE A TOXIN. I can’t believe I didn’t now this but dried RED KIDNEY BEANS have a TOXIN that requires at least 10 minutes of boiling at 212°F to destroy. Scientists do recommend 30 minutes though to be safe. Even white kidney bean relatives like the cannelloni beans also have this toxin but to a much lesser extent. I don’t know about all the beans of the world. The red kidney bean has the most. And they are completely safe after the initial boil to cook in anyway that you prefer. So using a slow cooker or cooking in the oven for these beans is okay IF YOU BOIL THEM FIRST for 10-30 minutes!

https://u.osu.edu/chowline/2013/04/17/dry-kidney-beans-need-to-be-boiled/
 
Curt C. June 17, 2020
So sad. I'm 63 and grew up on red beans and rice. I've never heard of, or been affected by, any toxins in a bean. Why must we panic and fear all things? Maybe if you eat 300 lbs of beans a week this toxin will kill you, but i don't and i have plenty of other things to fear other than a red kidney bean.
 
Pamela_in_Tokyo June 17, 2020
I didn’t know any of this myself till today. So I totally understand and agree about all the issues and the sadness. I have cooked a lot of red kidney beans in my 73 years too!

According to the Scientific report that I read just 5 or 6 beans incorrectly cooked could cause illness. No, not 300 lbs. I wouldn’t have mentioned it if it was 300 lbs.... But please do check it out for yourself. Please do search on the Internet.
 
Curt C. June 17, 2020
I refuse to live in fear of 5 red beans. To hell with that.
 
James C. June 17, 2020
Indeed, I'm with you. I don't think this is worth fearing. This post says the problem is when beans are "not properly cooked." Later it says "thorough cooking" is required; later it's "fully cooked".

Only then do they recommend boiling 10+ minutes (that's the recommendation from the FDA). What's very clear to me from both experience and the already deep research that Thorne (and generations upon generations of people before him): you do NOT need to boil beans in order to thoroughly/fully cook them. Mine cook for about 4 hours -- and they're fully cooked.

I'll take cooking advice from grandmas over the FDA 100% of the time.
 
Curt C. June 17, 2020
God bless you brother!
 
Valerie June 22, 2020
Aren't they thoroughly cooked when cooked? In the oven, on top of the stove? When (in the above video) the beans are removed from the oven and the lid is lifted they look a lot like "boiling". I doubt very much this toxin is harmful. Don't eat raw red kidney beans if you are afraid.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Pamela, thanks so much for sharing. These beans do simmer the whole time, albeit gently, so I believe they'll meet this standard.
 
MacGuffin July 8, 2020
It's not that kind of "toxin" and has nothing to do with panic. First, you only have to give them a hard boil for 10 minutes, 15 if you're concerned (I don't know how the FDA came up with 30). If you don't, THIS toxin results in violent nausea and diarrhea. If you haven't experienced this, your kidney beans have been properly cooked.
 
James C. June 17, 2020
You MUST read John Thorne's take on this, collected in his 2000 book, with Matt Thorne, "Pot on the Fire: Further Exploits of a Renegade Cook." I think it's the definitive coverage of "beans in a flask" -- an historical view, recipes, variations, and much more. Since I read this in 2006, I've never cooked beans another way. It's truly a genius recipe.

The one note I add for those I've given it to: depending on the pot you use, it can take some work to get the temperature right inside the pot (ie, ~200 degrees F).
 
Curt C. June 17, 2020
Ahh yes, "first get out your bean pot". I adore John Thorne's writing and I'm so happy you brought him up.
 
Lea C. June 17, 2020
Heating the pot on the stove top before putting it in the oven ensures it goes into the oven at the correct temperature inside the pot. Using an enameled cast iron pot also helps.

I keep an old pizza stone on the bottom rack of my oven, which also helps in ensure even cooking and steady temperature.
 
James C. June 17, 2020
Yes, very much depends on the cooking vessel. I use a glazed clay pot, which I preheat in the oven; then boil the liquid on the stove; add beans then liquid, then back in the oven. Even so, it doesn't really hit its "stride" with the right simmer until over an hour in there.

If you preheat the entire pot on the stove, esp if it's enameled cast iron, it's probably less of an issue. But my beans are room temp and the clay pot doesn't retain heat like the cast iron.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Thanks for sharing, James—I'll make sure to seek it out. I've tried John Thorne's overnight oven method and felt a little uneasy leaving my oven on all night, so I appreciated that this one is done relatively quickly.
 
Yanive1 June 17, 2020
Could I use lentils instead of beans?
 
Lea C. June 17, 2020
No. Lentils cook too quickly and would become mushy.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Yanive1, you could likely use this method for lentils and they'd just be done much more quickly.
 
Vivian June 17, 2020
Hi Kristen,
I love beans, so when I saw your post on beans, I had to watch your video. Here’s one of my favorite way to eat beans. In a skillet with some olive oil cook one chopped onion, chopped green bell peppers salt and cook on medium heat for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 2 cloves of garlic finely minced stir in well. Add 1 teaspoon of oregano 1/4 teaspoon of cumin and cook for a minute or so. Add 1/4 cup of tomato sauce. Pour to the beans and cook for a few minutes. Serve with white rice. Enjoy 😊
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Thanks so much, Vivian, these sound delicious!
 
Lea C. June 17, 2020
I made this recipe this morning but used canned beans. I thought I had all cannellini but accidentally grabbed both cannellini and pinto beans. Fortunately, it turned out beautifully! I love the broth. (Who knew you could get broth like that out of just a few ingredients?) I’m definitely keeping this recipe.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Lea, that's so cool—I never would have thought to cook canned beans this way. Did you cook them the full hour-plus?
 
Ann June 17, 2020
Kristen—You are the best! Your charming personality translates so well to these short videos (and shoutout to your husband, too). This video taught me a few things—hello tasting 5 beans I mean you—and they are delicious. Perfectly easy. A relief for those of us who can’t quite get the stove-top beans to behave. Bravo!!!!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Thanks so much, Ann—I'm so glad the video resonated with you!
 
Curt C. June 17, 2020
Pretentious my ass. Folks beginning their cooking journey need to know that not every recipe has to have 100 ingredients. Beans, water, salt, sage & olive oil - yes, it is that simple. You are teaching starting blocks and filling a void. Back in the day we had Home Ec but that's long gone. You do a great job and I enjoy your personality. Thank you.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Thanks so much, Curt.
 
Robin L. June 17, 2020
looks delish! I make beans every Monday of different varieties. Looks like I will add this to the mix.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Nice! Sounds like a great habit to get into. What are your favorite ways to eat them?
 
Robin L. June 22, 2020
...black beans cuban style, blackeyed peas with ham, redbeans and rice with sausage. I am from New Orleans and as tradition from long ago, when the women would make a fire to heat the water for wash day (usually monday), they would put a pot of beans on the fire. Surely this was long ago, but traditions have held and most people here eat beans on Monday and it makes Mondays a day that I never need to think about what is for dinner.
 
Caroline S. June 17, 2020
Your husband/ace camera operator asked about mustard. My CSA had mustard greens this week and they are very mustard-y. I think they'll be a perfect substitute in the kale recipe you mentioned!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 22, 2020
Such a great point! And I agree, that sounds delicious.
 
cerbone#1 June 17, 2020
In general I am not a fan of food “blogs” But this brings that to a whole new level. It’s food, beanS for heck sake. Could you have found a way to be any more pretentious?
 
Tracey June 17, 2020
So sorry you feel Kristin was being pretentious, but some of us are passionate about our beans. Just saying.
 
micki June 17, 2020
Whats pretentious about cooking beans?
 
KELLY V. June 17, 2020
Why why why do people feel the need to make derogatory comments when it is just not necessary… Just keep scrolling! Pretentious would be Emeril Lagasse you can never find any of the ingredients for his recipes 😄 As one who follows the Mediterranean diet I love these recipes and I’m always looking for new ways to incorporate beans. I was very excited to see the header in today’s email! Thank you so much.
 
Rick L. June 17, 2020
Don’t be a dope. Really? Kristen, you’re adorable.

One can never have enough cannellini bean recipes. It should be its own food group! Yum.
 
Danielle June 17, 2020
I think this site is not for you.
 
Lea C. June 17, 2020
Have you tried cooking beans this way? It really is a game changer.
 
Christene June 18, 2020
In general, I’m not a fan of ridiculous comments but this takes it to a whole new level. “... not a fan of food blogs” - as a comment on a highly rated and loved food blog. Maybe just move along then? If you’re not a fan, what are you doing here?