Sunday, October 3, 2010

Beans to warm your soul...

Dried beans have always intimidated me. I've just never been successful with them. Even after soaking overnight they always seemed to be 'crunchy' and they would take forever to cook. But, in my heightened awareness of the local food movement along with the knowledge of how much our energy and environment is impacted when we rely on the mass production and distribution of foods, I've decided to make more of an effort.

It's so easy to get home from work and pop open a jar of beans, heat on the stove and serve. In the back of my head I also recognized if I could figure out how to use dried beans they would probably taste better when compared to beans from the can. I control the sodium level. Most canned beans are preserved in a briny, solution that is often just plain slimy. Even after rinsing they still have some of that briny flavor.

Now, I'm not trying to even attempt to claim that I'm not going to use canned beans anymore. I love beans and sometimes the convenience of the can will win over. I will, however, make an effort to use more dried legumes in favor of the canned version.

This recipe was born because I had a few ham hocks from a local farmer. The ham hocks were relatively small and not very meaty so I did add a few slices of bacon at the end just to up the porky happiness. If the ham hocks you find are meaty, I would not add the bacon (or you can if you want!) The final dish is a tasty, creamy, comfort food.

Stewed Cannellini Beans with Ham Hocks and Bacon

1 pound dried cannellini beans
1 pound ham hocks (get meaty ones if you can)
4 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 cup of chopped Italian leaf parsley
bacon crumbles from 3 slices of crispy bacon (optional)

Soak the beans overnight in enough water so that the beans will be covered once the beans double in size.

Simmer the ham hocks in 2 cups of chicken broth in a lidded stockpot for about an hour.

Drain the soaked beans and add them to the simmering ham hocks. Add the remaining chicken stock and salt. Simmer with the lid on for about an hour, stirring occassionly. When I made these I wasn't concerned with maintaining the purity of the shape of the bean so I kind of smashed them with the back of my wooden spoon each time I went in to stir. Smashing increases the creaminess of the final bean dish. Simmer the beans for about another hour. Once the beans have been simmering for about 1/2 hour, remove the ham hocks. Try to get as much meat off the ham hocks, chop the meat, and return the chopped meat to the bean pot.

The night we enjoyed them, I served the beans atop a bed of wilted swiss chard with some beautiful smoked pork left over from the weekend. Yes, I do like pork.. :)

Don't be afraid to make extra beans. This is one leftover that never goes to waste in our house. I love having a little bit of these for breakfast. Nothing more comforting than getting a little warm comfort food in your belly first thing in the morning. Also, it does a good job of carrying me through the morning until lunch.

1 comment: