It's a repeat declaration, but I'm crazy for baked beans. They needn't always be homemade; I am sufficiently happy with tinned. To me, their ketchup-y sweetness is camping trips and student days and breakfast at Debenhams's restaurant with Gigi when I was fourteen years old.
Lately, I've made room for another bean. Bubbling Bacon Butter Beans from Adam Perry Lang's Charred and Scruffed. Sean and I had them for yesterday's lunch, most likely one of the remaining few outside this year.
The bean business started the day before, only because it suited my schedule, not because of the recipe's need. In a big pot there was a fry of bacon, shallot and sage, and let's recognize that the smell of frying sage is the finest harbinger of later autumn. I use a lot of herbs year round, but lean most heavily on sage when on those pages towards the end of the calendar.
The large limas took a tumble into the mix with chicken stock, while chopped tomatoes were in a pan with oregano and bacon of their own; the latter cooked until their juice was mostly gone, until they crackled and concentrated. This intense slurry went in with the beans, then the whole went into the oven.
Perry Lang explains he prefers "butter beans" as a name over lima beans, since buttery best evokes the mashed-potato-fluff of the limas. Dried, they are discrete, flattish oblongs, which is to say they're the prototype for skipping stones. Cooked, limas swell impressively, to a shape like two plump offset rounds joined at the middle. They are firm, yet soothingly tender, and absorb flavours like nobody's business. Here they sop up the surrounding goodness, with a subtle nuttiness of their own.
I finished our beans with a stirring-through of chopped kale then drips of parsley, chive, chili and lemon made into a quick dressing. The fried egg was gilding the lily for certain, but an embellishment I'd also repeat.
What we ended up with was a deeply-satisfying bowlful, spoons at times mild and others with capricious sting. The herbs, dried and fresh, long-cooked and just-added, skimmed across each bite, plinking first then sinking into something deeper. I liked how the egg yolk further enriched the broth, the fat and acid made for each other, and the resonant savouriness of the combination.
Charred and Scruffed is a one to read, not only for grilling, not only for cooking meat, but for anyone interested in cooking, full stop. Perry Lang is keen on details, taking advantage of every opportunity to build flavour and texture. He encourages observation and the active participation in process. His techniques are innovative and, what's more, profoundly useful. I turn to it as often for reference as I do for recipes.The garage roof is getting new shingles, and one of the roofers smokes those skinny cigarillos. On the back deck a day ago the wind was picking up for a storm, and carried the music from their radio and the scent of the tobacco.
Beans, bacon, eggs, singalong and smoke. I'd repeat that, too.
BUBBLING BACON BUTTER BEANS (with kale and an egg)
Excerpted from Charred & Scruffed: Bold new techniques for explosive flavor on and off the grill by Adam Perry Lang (Artisan Books, 2012).
Serves 6 to 8
Butter beans are just another name for lima beans, especially in the South. But I tend to think more sensually, and I have always felt that when they are cooked just right, these beans achieve a state of melty smoothness that is best described by the word "buttery." In the process of cooking, they throw off starch—just like Arborio rice does in risotto. The result is velvety creaminess. My recommendation for these beans is "Serve with anything," because they go with everything. But I could also say, "Serve with nothing else," because they are satisfying all by themselves and quite irresistible when you take them from the fire -- steaming, bubbling, and fragrant. — APL
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
- 6 slices thick-sliced bacon, cut into ¼-inch-wide strips
- ½ cup finely chopped shallots
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled, plus 1 tablespoon grated garlic (use a Microplane) or garlic mashed to paste
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- 2 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
- 4 cups cooked butter beans or two 15-ounce jars or cans butter beans, drained, rinsed if canned
- 1 cup Pomi diced tomatoes (or other Tetra Pak tomatoes), drained
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 cup finely diced prosciutto fat (or additional bacon)
- Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- White wine vinegar
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until it sizzles when a piece of bacon is added. Add the rest of the bacon, the shallots, crushed garlic, and sage and cook, stirring, until the shallots are just translucent, 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the beans, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet over high heat until very hot. Add the tomatoes and sauté for 2 minutes, then add the grated garlic and oregano and cook until most of the moisture has evaporated and the tomatoes are crackling.
Stir the tomatoes into the bean mixture, along with the prosciutto fat. Season with salt and pepper and pour into a 2-quart casserole or baking dish.
Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the beans are velvety and creamy. If the beans start to look dry, add a splash of water.
Stir the parsley into the beans, adjust the acidity with white wine vinegar as necessary, and drizzle generously with olive oil. Serve, or keep warm in a low oven until ready to serve.
Notes from me (Tara):
- I cook the bacon alone for a few minutes before adding the shallot, so it takes on some colour. That's my preference when it comes to bacon, but might not be be yours.
- I daresay they could be made vegetarian with vegetable broth instead of stock, and using fire-roasted tomatoes for the needed smokiness.
- To make the dish as pictured, coarsely chop a few handfuls stemmed Tuscan kale or baby kale and stir into the hot beans right before serving. Plunk a fried on top. As mentioned above, I use Perry Lang's herb dressing to season at the end.
- Toast! How could I forget toast? Eat these on toast.