Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Great Northern White

Here's my September column from the Petaluma Post

As the Fall months start to roll in we are beginning to eat more comfort foods; I think that is nature calling, telling us to pack on some weight to survive the winter, but apparently nature did not get the memo, we have plenty of food 365!  We hear that we need more lean protein and to get more fiber (which is not generally comfort food).  Beans are perfect for just that, they are filling, can fulfill that craving for comfort food, but have good protein and fiber too.  If you are on a budget you can buy a pound for less than a dollar that will feed a family of four for a couple meals.  If you are like me and are always running, dry bean preparation is just not going to happen, but a can that serves two can be had for less than a couple bucks; and I believe beans are one of those things that are just fine canned.  Once prepared (or opened) they can be added to many daily dishes or stand on their own.  I really like white beans, they are small and add easily to a variety of dishes.  They pick up flavors and add texture as well as being filling.  Try adding them to you next green salad, and they are great in any soup.  You can even use them as an appetizer.

How to cook your beans
1/3 cup dried beans equals about 2 cups cooked beans.   There are two ways to start out if you are starting with dry beans, which need to be rehydrated.  If you have time, the best way is to cover them with water three times the volume of your beans and allow to soak overnight, then drain the water.  This process will give you a nicer looking end product with less broken and split beans.  However if you are short on time you can cover with the same amount of water, bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and allow to rehydrate for 1 to 2 hours.  Either way you are now ready cook, which is very simple.  I have always been taught not to salt beans until after they have been cooked.  Cover the beans with fresh water, about twice the volume, bring to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer and cook for approximately 1 to 1½ hours, till they mash between your fingers.  Drain and cool or use in your recipe.  Cooked beans can be held in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days or bagged and frozen for up to 6 months.  Cooking ahead and freezing is very cost effective. 

If you are choosing to use canned bean, open the can.  Big time saver.  In the following recipes I may indicate cans of beans, but feel free to substitute cooked beans in the same volume.

Cassoulet is a classic French dish, in a lot of ways it is the original baked beans.  It can be made ahead and allowed to slowly simmer.  It is usually made with fattier meats like duck and sausages; however it can be made into a great vegetarian dish that is hearty and filling too.

Vegetarian Cassoulet
Serves 4
1 cup dried white beans (Great Northern or Cannellini) prepared as above
or 2 cans white beans, drained
1 white onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 head fennel, sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
4 sprigs thyme
1 small sprig rosemary
1 cup Crimini mushrooms, halved
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

Use a wide topped oven proof skillet, you want it wide and shallow.  Heat the olive oil, add the garlic and onion, then sauté till translucent.  Add in the rest of the vegetables and herbs, and continue to sweat till juices are released.  Add in beans and vegetable stock, place into a 350 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes till the beans just crack open and the liquid is reduced.

½ cup bread crumbs
1 Tbl olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp chopped parsley

Combine all the ingredient and sprinkle over the top of the cassoulet, then bake for another 10 minutes at 350.  Till golden brown.

White Bean Hummus
This is a recipe that I created for making crostini.  So often a topping will not stay on the bread and you need just a little glue.  This is a tasty, edible, and mildly sticky; perfect.

1 can white beans (Great White or Cannellini), drained well
¼ cup roasted garlic (I always keep a supply on hand)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive Oil

Place the white beans and garlic into the food processor (you can do by hand with a fork in a bowl) pulse till it becomes a puree.  It should be quite thick.  Then slowly add olive oil to reach the consistency wanted (a quarter to half cup should do it).  Keeps 5 to 7 days.  We often add in sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs, pesto.

Beans aren’t just for soup anymore, think of tossing them into salads or even pasta dishes to make them just a little bit more filling.  They taste great and really are very good for you - just like you mom said.

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