Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cannellini Beans with Caramelized Onions & Bacon

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my mother and she introduced me to a wonderful cookbook called Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando. As I thumbed through the pages, I was overcome with an overwhelming craving for beans! Luckily, my mother had a basket full of every kind of dried bean imaginable, so I immediately went to work to find the most tempting recipe. Although it was difficult to decide, I landed on page 124 of the book and was intrigued. The recipe was fairly simple to make and sounded good, so I grabbed a bag of beans and began soaking. The next day, we created a steaming, delicious pot of beans and topped them with caramelized onions and bacon. Since that day, I have purchased the book for myself and am very excited about all the creative possibilities for cooking beans. Luckily, here in Maine we have a wonderful selection of dried beans in our local supermarket, including several heirloom varieties, so I imagine beans will be on the menu often this winter.

On the subject of beans, I recently taught a cooking class at our neighborhood recreation center where I demonstrated a variation of the bean recipe my mother and I had made earlier. One change from the original recipe is that I boiled my beans in broth to enhance their flavor, since dried beans are like sponges and take on the flavors in which they are cooked. Another shortcut was my use of ready-cooked bacon. It only has 17.5 calories per slice and 0.5 grams of saturated fat -- it is my new best friend. Although this recipe does require planning ahead because the beans need to soak overnight and it takes a few hours to prepare, it is worth every minute. Just one bite and you'll fall in love with beans, too!

Cannellini Beans with Caramelized Onions & Bacon
(Serves 8)

12 ounces dried Cannellini Runner Beans*
1 heaping teaspoon baking soda
5-6 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable stock (or sodium free)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
2 celery stalks, cut into large pieces
Salt to taste
2 teaspoons olive oil
1½ large onions, thinly sliced
6 slices of ready-cooked bacon, chopped
Freshly ground pepper

1. Pick over beans to check for stones. Soak beans in cold water overnight or for 3-4 hours until plump. Drain off water and place beans in a large, heavy cooking pot or dutch oven. To degas beans, cover with fresh water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 30-40 minutes or until skins split and curl when you blow on them. Bring pot over to the sink, add baking soda and stir. Beans will bubble and release their gas. (Do this over sink in case the liquid bubbles over the top of the pot.) Drain and rinse beans in a colander. Return beans to pot.

2. Add stock to cover beans entirely. Add garlic powder and celery stalks. Partially cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until beans are tender, between 2 to 2½ hours. (After 2 hours, test beans for doneness. Continue cooking and testing occasionally, if necessary.) Add additional stock if necessary to keep beans covered. When beans are nearly soft, add salt to taste.

3. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add sliced onions and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, lightly browned and beginning to caramelize. Add chopped bacon and continue cooking until onions are well browned and bacon has rendered its fat and crisped.

4. To serve, remove celery pieces from beans and discard (or eat them, they are delicious). Ladle beans and a bit of broth into a serving bowl. Top with caramelized onion and bacon mixture. If desired, serve with a salad and toasted french bread for a complete meal.

Nutritional Information per serving of beans with onions & bacon: 196.7 calories, 30.1 g carbohydrate, 2.5 g total fat, 0.3 g saturated fat, 7.3 g fiber, 16 g protein.

*The Cannellini Runner Bean is an heirloom bean that can be purchased on the internet. Or any large white bean can be substituted, such as Yellow Eye, Butter Beans or Lima.

Recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010
Inspired by "Florida Butter Beans" recipe by Steve Sando in Heirloom Beans, p. 124

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