white beans + batch cooking
Is there anything so full of simple goodness as a bowl of braised white beans? Not in my kitchen, there isn't. A pot of braised beans is my ultimate in the category of uncomplicated, reliable food. I say reliable because it's difficult to screw up a pot of beans - an important factor to a person like me. A person, that is, who - in a major slip of the tongue - referred to a group of people on another floor of her office building as "those bitches" while chatting casually with her senior earlier today, and then attempted to play it off by laughing awkwardly and shoving a pastry into her mouth so as to be unavailable to answer any follow-up questions. Ah dear beans, in this life fraught with snafus, I'm glad I can count on you.
One thing that I really love about beans is that a they lend themselves so well to batch cooking. Cook up one batch and then keep it in the fridge for the rest of of the week; the potential uses are endless. Do you do a lot of batch cooking? From what I hear it’s extremely useful for families with children. I find it very useful myself during busy weeks when I'm looking to simplify my weekly meal plan, which usually happens either when I'm in the thick of training for a race or when I've been splurging too much on fancy ingredients and need to crunch the budget.
Thanks to the Gluten Free Girl, I recently partook in some guided experimentation with batch cooking by way of the new recipe subscription community that she and her husband have created. It’s called Feeding Our People, and it’s one of the most creative and useful cooking-related projects I’ve seen. As a subscriber, you receive a weekly email that contains three recipes and a shopping list. The first recipe is the base that you make to use as part of the other two recipes, or in any other way that you wish.
The focus is on making wholesome, sustaining food that doesn’t take a lot of time to prepare, without skimping on flavor. To my delight, the first edition featured white beans braised in olive oil: first to be eaten as is, then in a hearty vegetable soup, and finally as part of a white bean miso dip for veggies. It was brilliant! And delicious. And just...chill. Is it even a thing for cooking to be chill? Maybe I would’ve said no before Feeding Our People, but I tell you, it was a chill experience! They are from Vashon Island, which seems pretty chill to me. Anyway, check it out and you’ll see.
I enjoyed the format enough to give it a shot myself, so off we go with the recipes: The star of the show is (duh!) the pot o’white beans braised in olive oil, from the inaugural edition of Feeding Our People. Next up is a recipe for braised rabe and white beans adapted from one I found over at Organette (OG recipe from All About Braising). If you’ve read anything written by Molly Wizenburg, the soothing voice behind Orangette, you probably know that she is the champion of taking beans as seriously as they deserve to be. Finally, the white bean and tuna salad comes from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, written by Mel, a mother of five kids and lover of unfussy, satisfying meals. She rocks and this salad does too. And with that I bid you adieu. Happy (batch?) cooking, y’all!
Braised White Beans, via Feeding Our People
Makes 7 cups of cooked beans and 3 cups of braising liquid.
1 pound white beans (I used these locally-sourced beauties)
1 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 sprig rosemary
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Soak the beans: Put the beans in a large bowl. Cover with water so that it rises a couple inches above the top layer of beans. Let them soak on the kitchen counter overnight.
Prepare to braise: Heat the oven to 200° F. Separate the beans from the soaking liquid by draining the beans through a sieve over a large pot. There should be about 5 cups of liquid, but mine had less so I just added some water from the tap.
Set the pot full of soaking liquid on high heat. Put the beans into a Dutch oven and add in the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and salt. Give it a good stir. When the soaking liquid has boiled for 1 minute, pour the hot liquid over the beans. Cover with the lid.
Braise the beans: Put the pot of beans into the oven. Cook until the beans are tender, the skins starting to burst, and every bite is soft, about 2 ½ to 3 hours. After 2 hours, check the beans and give them a stir every 20 minutes or so. [Note: I accidentally set the temp to 300° F the first time I made them and noticed something was wrong when I could smell them cooking from the other room. They cooked at the high temp for almost an hour. Once,I discovered my mistake I immediately took the beans out, let oven cool down to 200° F and put the beans back in the oven to carry on with the braising. Everything turned out ok. This method is forgiving.]
Remove the pot of beans from the oven. Use some of the hot beans right away, if you wish. Let the remaining beans cool to room temperature and then transfer them into a container with a lid. Make sure the beans are covered with the braising broth.
[Don’t have time to braise? Use this method, it worked like a charm for me.]
Braised Rabe with White Beans, adapted from Orangette via All About Braising by Molly Stevens
Makes about 2 hearty, or 4 lighter servings
1 bunch of rabe*
¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Kosher salt, to taste
3 cups braised white beans, plus 1 cup of braising liquid (or two 15-ounce cans, drained and rinsed, plus 1 cup chicken stock)
Lemon, for serving
Extra virgin olive oil, for finishing
Grated Parmesan or pecorino romano, for finishing
Rinse the rabe well and chop into bite-size pieces. Toss it into a colander to drain for a minute, but don’t worry if they leaves are still a little wet; that will actually help with the braise.
Combine the oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a Dutch oven or large (12-inch) skillet with a lid, over medium heat. Cook just until the garlic becomes fragrant and barely golden, about 2 minutes. Do not allow the garlic to brown. Add the rabe a handful at a time, stirring and allowing it to wilt before adding the next handful. Add a pinch of salt with each handful. Once all the rabe has wilted, spoon the beans and about 1 cup of their cooking liquid (or 1 cup chicken stock, if using canned beans) into the pot, season with a little more salt, and stir to incorporate.
Bring the heat down so that the rabe and beans are simmering gently. Cover and cook until the greens are very tender and the cooking liquid has thickened somewhat from the starch in the beans, about 20 minutes. At this point, the dish will be quite soupy. You can either serve it as-is, you can boil it down to thicken a bit, as we did. To thicken, boil unocovered for about 5 minutes. Season with a generous squeeze of lemon juice and more salt and pepper to taste.
Serve warm or at room temperature, with a drizzle olive oil and grated Parmesan on top, and some garlic bread for sopping up all the juicy goodness.
*The original recipe calls for escarole, which is one of my favorite vegetables of all time that I have been able to find maybe once since moving to San Francisco. (Makes me miss my Greek veggie stand in NYC that much more!) If you’re lucky enough to find escarole where you purchase your groceries, use 1 medium head escarole here (about 1 pound; 450 grams).
White Bean and Tuna Salad, adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe
Makes about 4 1/2 cups of salad
½ cup chopped red onion or green onion (original calls for red, I prefer green)
The zest and juice of 1 lemon
10-12 oz water-packed or oil-packed tuna (I use the fancier stuff, see photo above)
3 cups of braised white beans (or two 15-ounce cans of Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained)
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
A few splashes of hot sauce (I typically use Frank’s Red Hot or Louisiana)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
If using red onions, place them in a small bowl and sprinkle some of the lemon juice over them, allowing the mixture to rest while you prepare the other ingredients. This will take some of the oniony edge off the onions. Skip this step if you’re using green onions.
Drain the tuna, and rinse it if it is packed in oil. Flake it by hand, if necessary, into a large bowl. Add the beans and gently stir to combine. Add the onions, parsley, black pepper, lemon zest, lemon juice, and hot sauce, and mix to combine. If the salad needs more acid, add a little more lemon juice. If the salad seems a little dry, add a little bit of olive oil. Add salt to taste.
Serve chilled or at room temperature. The salad develops great flavor if tightly covered and refrigerated for a couple hours, or up to a day, before serving.