Tuesday, May 30, 2017

My Simple Bowl of Beans Topped with Roasted Tomatoes

Are you a bean person? I mean do you adore beans as a stand-alone dish? Revel in their unique flavors and textures?

I'll admit. I haven't been. I like them well enough--I enjoy garbanzos in a salad or cooked and pureed into hummus. I'm all in for beans in chili or stews or soups. Barbecue baked beans are more a delivery system for sauce. Basically, I just haven't really pushed myself to seek out beans that stand up to taking a starring role in a dish.

Until recently. I'm a longtime fan of Rancho Gordo, which is bean heaven for aficionados, especially heirloom bean aficionados. I was noodling around on the site and came across Alubia Blanca beans. These small white heirloom beans are a customer favorite so I figured I'd order some and see what all the fuss was about.

I was gobsmacked. They've totally changed how I feel about bean potential.

Now, Rancho Gordo has lots of helpful, inspiring recipes on the site. The Spanish-style Alubia Blanca beans can be used in soups, salads, baked beans, bean dips, and pot beans. According to the website, they're marvelous cooked and spread on grilled Tuscan bread, topped with a green, fruity olive oil, chopped fresh sage, and grated hard cheese.

I did something different. I just cooked them, using a very basic technique that I'll share--and then I topped them with roasted tomatoes, peppers, and garlic. It was so simple, yet so profoundly perfect a meal it made me want to weep with joy. Beans! Who knew!

So, here's what I did.

First, I poured out about a cup of beans and checked them for debris. Then I put the beans in a medium-size bowl and covered them in water, letting them soak for about six hours. This speeds up the cooking process and lets the seasonings you cook them in permeate them more easily.

The cooking process itself was simple. In a saucepan, I sautéed half a diced onion with minced garlic in olive oil until I could smell their fragrance. I drained the beans and added them, along with some sprigs of fresh thyme. Then I added water to cover by about an inch. I brought the mixture to a hard boil, then reduced the heat to a slow simmer and let them cook.

I thought it would take a couple of hours for the beans to cook through. I'm so glad I checked after an hour because even then they already were nice and al dente. I added some sea salt, stirred, and removed them from the heat. And that was it. I gave them a taste and was amazed at how they had transformed into a mouthful of delicate, creamy sweetness.

While they were cooking, I addressed the topping. I had a large bowl of cherry tomatoes I couldn't keep up with and they were starting to go south. So I sliced them in half. To them I added a red bell pepper my mom had given me, cut that into bite-sized chunks. And I had a head of garlic from which I took about half of the cloves. I peeled those and tossed them with the tomatoes, pepper chunks, olive oil, and sea salt. I poured them onto a piece of foil and slow roasted them at 300 degrees for about an hour, when they had collapsed and made their own sauce.

I poured about half the bean mixture with its lovely pot liquor into a new blue and white speckled bowl I had recently purchased at the Empty Bowls fundraiser held annually at Coronado High School. Then I topped the beans with the roasted tomatoes. I could have added grated cheese, but I ate this bowl of beans as is and marveled at how the flavors of the beans and vegetables melded. At how simple and satisfying each mouthful was. I couldn't wait for the following day, when I could eat this dish all over again as leftovers.

So, yeah, I'm now a bean person.

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