Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bittman's Pantry Tidy Segment 4

As you might have noticed from my three earlier posts (lemons & limes, bread crumbs, and parsley & basil), I've become a bit obsessed with Mark Bittman's article, "Fresh Start for a New Year? Let’s Begin in the Kitchen," from Tuesday, January 6th's New York Times. And what is #8 on his list?

OUT Canned beans (except in emergencies).

IN Dried beans. More economical, better tasting, space saving and available in far more varieties. Cook a pound once a week and you’ll always have them around (you can freeze small amounts in their cooking liquid, or water, indefinitely). If you’re not sold, try this: soak and cook a pound of white beans. Take some and finish with fresh chopped sage, garlic and good olive oil. Purée another cup or so with a boiled potato and lots of garlic. Mix some with a bit of cooking liquid, and add a can of tomatoes; some chopped celery, carrots and onions; cooked pasta; and cheese and call it pasta fagiole or minestrone. If there are any left, mix them with a can of olive-oil-packed tuna or sardines. And that’s just white beans.
Now, I'm not going to name names, but a certain person whose word on all things culinary I hold sacred (except for her lack of love for NYTCCCs), told me dried beans were necessary only when canned beans of that variety were unavailable. In other words, she privileged canned over dried. I'm not entirely convinced that Bittman isn't sort of agreeing - one of his pros for dried beans is that they come in a greater variety.

Henry's is a great source for dried beans. Their bulk foods section offers fourteen different types of dried beans including some I'd never heard of before (peruano beans, anyone?). Their prices range between $0.79 to $1.79 per pound. Compare that to Henry's brand of canned beans, all of which cost $0.99 for a 15 ounce can, which is about $1.06 per pound and that's before draining off the liquid. Also the variety of beans available in cans is limited to black, dark red kidney, garbanzo, great northern, and pinto. I've been working on the biodiversity of my diet. I'm going to start test driving dried legumes.

The folks over at AskMetafilter have worked up quite a list of bean soup recipes.

But for my first test drive I went for a recipe I've had success with in the past using canned beans: The Flying Biscuit's White Bean Cassoulet.

As recommended by the cookbook, I serve this topped with grilled chicken sausage as a main dish.


1/2 pound dried small white navy beans (which were $1.49 per pound at Henry's)
3 cups chicken stock or veggie stock
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, minced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup Creme Fraiche (see below for instructions)


1. Place beans in a Dutch oven (or a heavy bottomed sauce pan if you're not all Ooo La La over Le Creuset) and add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cover. Let sit for 1 hour.

2. Place beans in their liquid back on stove and add stock, garlic, shallots, and carrots. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. Beans will be tender and just starting to fall apart. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, rosemary, salt, pepper, olive oil, and Creme Fraiche. Taste for seasonings and serve.

Creme Fraiche (a.k.a. my little science experiment - remember when you used to put bread in a jar and leave it on the counter to watch the mold grow? Like that, but super yummy!)


2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons buttermilk


1. Pour cream into a nonreactive container, like a glass jar. Make sure the container is large enough to let some biological action happen. If you put this in a 2 cup pyrex dish with a tupperware-esque top, it will be messy. Trust me.

2. Stir in buttermilk.

3. Cover and place in a warm (78 degrees Fahrenheit), dark place for 24 hours.

4. After 24 hours, stir. The mixture should be thick and creamy. If it's not quite creamy, leave it for another 8 hours.

5. Once it's creamy, pop it into the refrigerator before you turn it into sour cream. It should keep in the fridge for up to a week.

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Rebecca said...

I actually have started using dried beans sometimes. I just made some the other weekend and they were supper yummy. I still think that when the beans are mixed into another recipe that it doesn't make that big of a difference and it is much faster to use canned beans.

I used the basic bean recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for the beans. I then used the broth for braising some kale, which also worked well.

Sarah said...

It is true that you have to be very plan ahead-y when you use dried beans.

How do you like Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone?

You used bean broth to braise? I heard that bean broth is where the gassiness is, so you should discard it. But that could be a vicious rumor.

Rebecca said...

Love the cookbook. I've only cooked the bean recipe, but it is organized by vegetable for a big chunk of the book and so in the summer when I have an abundance of veggies, I will be able to get new ideas easily. Her recipes deal with general techniques and cooking principles. It's very well written.

You soak the beans for a long time before you cook them. You get rid of the soaking water, which does contain the gassiness. You essential produce vegetable stock with the liquid and it was good stuff.