Saturday, 12:30 pm: Tonight I’m cooking Italian. I’m having soup and baked beans for dinner, which isn’t very adventurous in terms of what I’m eating (no fish here), but I promise there will be adventure…
I normally cook from a recipe. I occasionally make minor modifications to suit my taste or to make due with what I have on hand, but normally I’m pretty rigid about recipes. Tonight I’m using my imagination just a little.
I was trying to think of something to go with the soup I have planned for tonight (more on that later) and somehow the idea of making Tuscan baked beans popped into my head. Actually, Tuscans have a long tradition of making baked beans. They wouldn’t make them in a New England bean pot as I am, but they would season the beans with olive oil and sage, put them in a flask, and tuck them into the fireplace embers overnight for a long slow cook.
My thought was that I would take these basic ingredients, expand on them a bit, and then cook them as I normally would cook Boston baked beans. I added some pancetta in lieu of the salt pork, and then threw in some onion, garlic and tomatoes for good measure. I put them in the oven a couple of hours ago, and already the house is filled with the wonderful smell of baking beans.
Saturday, 7:45 pm: I just finished dinner. The beans were delicious, though very soft and falling apart. I like them this way very much, but it’s interesting that they came out so different in texture from Boston baked beans. Perhaps it is due to the type of bean I used, since I normally use navy beans for Boston baked beans. My Tuscan-inspired beans had formed a really tasty sauce. I sprinkled some Parmesan cheese on top and added a little salt (I would probably increase the amount of salt in the recipe next time). All in all I was very pleased with the results!
Tuscan-Inspired Baked Beans
1 lb dry white beans (I used cannellini)
2 oz pancetta (mine was already sliced, I then cut it into ½” squares)
¼ cup olive oil
1 small onion (I used Vidalia), chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 leaves of sage, chopped coarsely
1 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes, chopped, with juice
½ tsp salt
Sort through the beans and remove any rocks or really ugly beans. Rinse the beans a couple of times and then cover with cold water and soak overnight.
The next morning, drain the beans and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 275 F.
Meanwhile, sauté the pancetta in about 2 tbs of the olive oil over medium heat for just a minute or so, then add the onions and garlic. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the sage and after a few seconds remove from the heat.
Drain the beans in a colander and then return them to the pan and stir in the pancetta mixture, tomatoes, salt, and remaining 2 tbs of olive oil. Spoon this mixture into a bean pot (or casserole dish) and add boiling water until it just covers the beans. Put them in the oven and bake for about 8 hours. Check every couple of hours to see if more water is needed. Add water for the last time about 2 hours before you intend to take the beans out of the oven.
mise en place
ready to go in the oven
Tuscan-Inspired Baked Beans