Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Heirloom Beans

A few months ago, Ben introduced me to heirloom beans and I'm telling you, it completely changed the way I think about beans - meaning I actually think about them now. He started using Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, which he'd acquired during a trip to northern California to visit his parents, and each dish he used them in completely blew me away. Based in Napa, California, this company produces some of the most incredible dried beans you've ever tasted. This recipe for Drunken Beans, or borrachos, is a south western version of baked beans that Ben adapted from the Heirloom Beans cookbook put out by Rancho Gordo owner Steve Sando. If you're interested in reading more about the company and heirloom beans, check out this recent feature in the New York Times Magazine. Because of the soaking and cooking times, this recipe is best for a weekend meal, but I promise, the leftovers get better and better. Hey, if Thomas Keller's a fan, shouldn't you be too!

Drunken Beans

1 lb Pinto, Rio Zape, Red Appaloosa, or Anasazi Beans, cooked, in their broth (see below)
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 tsp kosher salt
2 bottles lager beer
4 slices of bacon, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapeño peppers, minced (seed if you prefer less heat)
1 lb cremini mushrooms, wiped clean, stemmed, and sliced
Juice of 1 lime
Corn tortillas, warmed, for serving
Lime wedges, sour cream, grated cheese, for serving

Cover the beans with an inch or two of cold water and let them soak for 4 to 6 hours.  Pour the beans and their soaking liquid into a large pot.  Add a handful of the chopped onion, the carrot, and the celery, and bring to a rolling boil.  Let boil briskly for 5 or so minutes, then turn the heat down to a bare simmer and let cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours (cooking time varies by bean), or until the beans are almost tender.  While cooking add warm water as needed to keep the beans submerged in an inch of liquid.  Add the salt and beer and continue to simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes, so some of the beer can cook off.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until browned, remove with a slotted spoon, and set aside.  Add the remaining onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and jalapeño and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the mushrooms and cook until softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the mushroom mixture to the pot of beans, stir to combine, and let simmer gently for 10 minutes so the flavors can combine.  Add the cooked bacon, lime juice, taste for seasoning, and serve with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of cheese, and tortillas and lime wedges passed around the table.

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