Everyday Cooking

1 Pot of White Beans, 5 Dinners

November 18, 2013

Put time into dinner now, and you can make it last forever -- or at least the whole week. Welcome to Halfway to Dinner, where we show you how to stretch your staples every which way. 

Today: Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer of The Canal House show us the best ways to work a pot of white beans -- all week long.  

Halfway to Dinner Beans from Food52  

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We often keep a pot of brothy beans in the refrigerator (they keep nicely for up to 5 days), and it gives us an instant leg up on putting a meal together. We usually use cannellini but often cook what we have on hand or what sounds good to us. Canned beans are okay in a pinch, of course, but they don’t really have the fresh sweet flavor and just-tender, somewhat toothsome texture of beans that you've cooked yourself.

Some tips to make your beans even better:
When you're buying beans, choose those that have been recently harvested and dried (look for an expiration date, and try shopping at a store that moves a lot of them off the shelves), as older beans grow a tough and impermeable shell. If you soak your beans, they only need about 4 hours -- the oft-used phrase “soak the beans overnight” is more about convenience.

Or, use the “quick” soak method: Put the beans in a pot, cover them with cold water, bring the water to a boil, and remove the pot from heat. Cover the pot and let the beans soak for 1 hour. Drain, then cover the beans with fresh cold water and gently simmer them until tender. If you forgo soaking altogether, just put the unsoaked beans right in a pot, cover with cold water, and onto the stove for a gentle simmer they go. We salt our bean-cooking water -- kitchen lore forbidding this is just not true -- and always cook them slow and low.

Here's our standby cooking method for basic cooked dried beans. Make a pot-full on Sunday, and we’ll show you how to eat well all week.

Halfway to Dinner Beans from Food52

Cassoulet Our Way
To make a traditional cassoulet—the emblematic “pot of beans” from France’s Lengadòc region -- it takes a special earthenware pot, at least five kinds of meats, and three to four days of fussing and tending to prepare and cook. When we don’t have the luxury of time, we make this simplified version. It’s an easy weeknight meal and satisfies our hunger for the real thing.

Halfway to Dinner Beans from Food52

Braised Escarole with White Beans
Escarole always needs a good soak in cold water to rid it of the dirt trapped between its leaves. We wash it just before preparing this classic Italian dish so that the leaves still have water clinging to them when they are added to the skillet. This way, when they meet a warm slick of oil and a sliced clove of garlic, they wilt gently instead of frying. Once the leaves are wilted, add 1 or 2 cups of beans and a bit of their cooking water (or a small ladleful of water), season, and braise until the beans are warmed through and the escarole is still bright and colorful, 3 to 5 minutes.

Halfway to Dinner Beans from Food52

Beans with Sausages and Tuna 
We love beans with either canned tuna or good sausages. But here, we poach fresh tuna in good olive oil and serve the tuna and sausages together to make one of the best surf 'n' turf dishes we know. Poach an 8-ounce piece of fresh tuna in olive oil seasoned with a bay leaf, a few peppercorns, and a strip or two of lemon zest. Spoon warm beans on a platter, then add a few of your favorite cooked Italian sausages, the tuna, and bit of salt and pepper. Finish everything off with a bit of the poaching oil, some chopped parsley, and a wedge or two of lemon.

Halfway to Dinner Beans from Food52

White Beans with Spicy Black Olive Vinaigrette
If you're using canned beans here, give them a little love before you dress them. Rinse and drain them in a sieve, and toss them in a good drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Then go in with your dressing: Stir together garlic, olives, parsley, vinegar, olive oil, and red pepper flakes in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and add the beans, tossing gently to coat. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle with more olive oil before serving.

Halfway to Dinner Beans from Food52

Toast with Beans and Fried Sage Leaves
By week's end, there aren't enough beans left in the pot to make much of a meal, so we spoon the last of them over toast rubbed with garlic and seasoned with salt and olive oil. We fry sage leaves for extra flavor and scatter them on top of the soft, starchy beans. Finally, the beans get a last drizzle of good olive oil. Now that's a perfect meal to end the week. 

Basic Cooked Dried Beans

Makes 9 cups of beans

3 cups dried beans, unsoaked or soaked for 4 hours or overnight
1 onion, halved
1 to 2 cloves garlic
1 branch fresh thyme, optional
2 bay leaves
Really good extra-virgin olive oil 

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Photos by Canal House

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The Canal House

Written by: The Canal House


Joyce December 30, 2013
Green stuff....I hold several certifications both with WSET and The Court of Masters in wine. I have never heard it referred to Lengadoc. Thank you for the information.
Greenstuff December 30, 2013
Lengadòc to be even more correct. Cheers (as we say in English)!
Joyce December 30, 2013
Thank you Lydia for correcting the French regions name. Really! If you're going to print it, get it right!
Bill M. December 2, 2013
A couple tips I came across--can't remember where, exactly--but which I follow:
1)Put a tablespoon or so of baking soda into the pot when first boiling the beans. This softens the outer surfaces so that the beans cook faster.
2)Pour off all the water from the first boiling. This reduces or eliminates the substances that produce stomach gas.
lydia.sugarman December 1, 2013
Please. It's Languedoc, not Lengadoc.
Julianna R. December 1, 2013
Mmmmm. I don't know if you meant for your comment to sound snooty, but it did.
lydia.sugarman December 1, 2013
You're being judgmental.
Greenstuff December 1, 2013
It's Lengadoc in Occitan, the regional language that was spoken in the region until the French Revolution. There's been a recent resurgence of appreciation of the old regional languages in France, and signs at the entrances to towns now have their names in Occitan as well as French.
eeg December 1, 2013
Thanks to Canal House for the most delicious cranberry recipe in recent memory! Didnt have any juniper berries so used a 3 inch piece of cinnamon stick instead.
Pat F. December 1, 2013
I, too, favor cannelini beans. After a lot of experimentation, I find that salting the soaking water produces a wonderful result. And a six hour soak is as good as overnight. For one cup of dried beans (rinsed), I use a half onion and 3 or 4 unpeeled garlic cloves. Cover with at least !" of water. When the beans come to a boil, add 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp olive oil and reduce to simmer, partially cover pot and, after one hour, perfection.
bonbonmarie November 18, 2013
Oh, and for the gardeners out there--do consider growing beans. We have found some of the most wonderful heirloom varieties, both beautiful and delicious. Favorite white bean is Hutterite, but we also love having a fresh supply of Lamon borlotti. Seed Savers Exchange and Vermont Bean Seed Catalog have had great selections. Drying and shelling is kinda fun, too.
bonbonmarie November 18, 2013
Thanks for the tips! I have been on the bean brigade since the weather turned, and filling freezer with filling meals to cozy up with. I like the idea of keeping the beans in the fridge for quick pantry dishes too! Need to try that cassoulet...
Copy November 18, 2013
A crucial tip for making beans: cool them in the cooking liquid.
Greenstuff November 18, 2013
We've upped our bean consumption this fall, and I'm really enjoying continuing discussion of whether to soak or not to soak.

And I'm really getting a kick out of your using the Occiitan spelling for Languedoc (Lengadòc). You must be up on France's new-found appreciation of their regional languages!

emilyt November 18, 2013
Beans on toast is one of the all-time great pantry suppers.
Kenzi W. November 18, 2013
Mine too! Maybe an egg on top, too, if I feel like cleaning another pan.
AntoniaJames November 18, 2013
Excellent, helpful column. (Just love your cassoulet recipe. I just put duck legs on my shopping list.)
Thank you, Canal House Cooking! ;o)