Over the past decade, I’ve experimented with various ways to cook beans and grains. Assuming that you can find standard approaches in any basic cookbook, I’m using this space to describe two less common techniques that I’m excited about. For beans that hold their shape perfectly and have an intensely creamy texture, try slow-baking them in the oven, and you will be amazed. Although the process may take as long as three hours, almost no work is involved. Since slow-baked beans hold their flavor and shape very nicely when frozen, it’s practical to make a large quantity for later use. I was convinced to try slow-baking beans while reading and cooking from Sylvia Thompson’s The Kitchen Garden Cookbook, a fresh and fetching collection of recipes I heartily recommend. Thompson credits Russ Parsons of the Los Angeles Times for introducing her to this fine technique. I thank them both, and you will too. By eliminating presoaking and adding salt right from the start, the cooked beans develop maximum flavor, maintain good color, and end up with their glossy skins intact. Especially when seasoned with the ingredients for a Bonus Bean Broth (see below), they are tasty enough to serve as a simple side dish, tossed lightly with olive oil or garnished with fresh herbs.
For a special treat, try this technique with some of the unusual boutique beans now on the market--or slow-bake large limas, which end up looking like suitable fare for Gargantua.
9 to 7 cups cooked beans
Cooking Methodslow cooking
Total Timeunder 4 hours
Make Ahead RecipeYes
One Pot MealYes
Recipe Courseside dish
Dietary Considerationside dish
Five Ingredients or LessYes
Taste and Texturesavory
- 1 pound (about 2½ cups) dried beans, picked over and rinsed
- 1 teaspoon salt, preferably sea salt
- Boiling water to cover beans by 2 inches
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 250°F.
Set the beans in a large Dutch oven or lidded casserole. Sprinkle with salt. Pour enough boiling water over them to cover by 2 inches. Cover and bake until the beans are tender, 1 to 4 hours, depending on size and condition. (Most beans take 2 to 3 hours, but an occasional batch can surprise you.) Add boiling water, if needed, to keep the beans covered.
If you like the way the cooking liquid tastes, reserve it when you drain the beans. Refrigerate the beans for up to 3 days, or freeze until needed (see Freezing Cooked Beans opposite).
Freezing Cooked Beans:
After the beans have cooled, freeze them in heavy, zipper-topped plastic bags. It’s convenient to store them in 1¾-cup quantities, the approximate amount contained in a 15-ounce can, and the amount I call for in recipes. Defrost frozen beans either at room temperature or in a microwave.
Bonus Bean Broth:
Cook the beans with 1 chunked carrot, 2 sliced celery ribs, 1 large bay leaf, 1 halved shallot or small onion, 1 or 2 crushed cloves of garlic (optional), and 1/8 teaspoon peppercorns. Remove and discard the vegetables after draining the beans. Use the broth for soups and stews.
Make a tasty side dish or a spread for baguette by mashing the cooked beans coarsely with roasted garlic and olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper.
Garnish the beans with Gremolata.
See the recipe for Slow-Baked Cannellini with Olives, Escarole, and Gremolata for another approach to this technique.
2001 Lorna Sass