Growing up, I loved it when my mom made a big pot of navy beans cooked in salt pork. The beans would get sort of mushy, and we would crumble our cornbread into the salty, stick-to-your-ribs, bowl of comfort.
I wanted a fresher take on that satisfying pot o’ beans, and I turned to the ingredients I normally use to make Italian white beans. I think that adding the bacon end near the end of cooking cuts back some on the sodium levels, and leaving these beans a bit more al dente lends them to pairing with the crisp Swiss chard. —Randle Browning
Test Kitchen Notes
WHO: Randle Browning is a food writer and photographer living in Texas. She also runs a pizza place called Shorty's Pizza Stack.
WHAT: Tex-Italian is the new Tex-Mex -- and we're into it.
HOW: Simmer your beans; add in a mixture of bacon, onion, and tomato; pour into a bowl with Swiss chard, and top with Parmesan.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Randle Browning's stew is different from the other bowls we've had this winter; it's brothy and bright, with just a bit of bacon for smokiness. It's the perfect segue into warmer weather. We especially love how it wilts the chard leaves ever so slightly; their raw edge is taken off, but the whole bowl still feels fresh. —The Editors
Rinse beans, sort out any pebbles or dead-looking beans, and soak overnight, at least 6 hours. Drain and rinse.
In heavy bottom skillet or pot, crisp bacon. Drain on separate plate and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease. In the grease, sweat onions for 2 to 3 minutes until translucent. Drain most of the liquid off the tomatoes and add to skillet, stirring just until slightly softened. Remove from heat and set aside. If using the same pot for to cook the beans, transfer tomato mixture to a bowl and reserve.
Meanwhile, add 8 cups (or enough to cover beans by 1 inch) lukewarm water to beans in a large pot along with whole, peeled garlic cloves, thyme, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for 20 to 40 minutes. Check frequently, tasting at least 5 to 6 beans at a time, as they may not all cook evenly. When beans are al dente (I call this “edible, but not soft enough yet”), add tomato and onion mixture, along with bacon, to the bean pot. Return to simmer. When beans are cooked through but still solid (skins not bursting), remove from heat and discard thyme sprigs, garlic cloves, and any peppercorns you can reach. (It’s okay to leave them in if you don’t mind biting down on pepper every now and then -- they soften enough in the pot to be edible, but they are still a little spicy). Stir in 3 tablespoons chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Assemble bowls by placing 1 cup of chopped Swiss chard in the bottom of each bowl and topping with beans. Squeeze lemon over beans and sprinkle with remaining chopped parsley and/or Parmesan and olive oil.