One-Pot White Bean Stew (yum)

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The whole “fusion” food thing has always had a bit of a stigma, it seems. When I tried to tell people that the restaurant I worked in in Belfast cooked some “pub” dishes, like fish and chips or Beef Wellington, but with a lot of Asian-inspired flavors, like curry and wasabi, they would look at me skeptically and say, “You mean like Irish-Asian fusion?”

Well, when you put it that way.

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That’s why I feel a little bit silly calling this pot of beans Italian-Texan fusion, but I’ll do it anyway. Growing up, I loved it when my mom made a big pot of navy beans cooked in salt pork. The beans would get sort of mushy, and we would crumble our cornbread into the salty, stick-to-your-ribs, bowl of comfort.

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I wanted a fresher take on that satisfying pot o’ beans, and I turned to the ingredients I normally use to make Italian white beans. I think that adding the bacon end near the end of cooking cuts back some on the sodium levels, and leaving these beans a bit more al dente lends them to pairing with the crisp Swiss chard.

You can make it all in one pot, too. Bonus!

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Italian-Texan One-Pot White Bean Stew
Serves 4

½ lb. Navy beans (dry)
3 strips thick-cut bacon
¼ cup diced white onion
2 garlic cloves, peeled, whole
14 oz. can chopped tomatoes
2 sprigs thyme
1 Tablespoon whole peppercorns
3 Tablespoons chopped parsley
½ bunch Swiss chard
Salt & Pepper

1. Rinse beans, sort out any pebbles or dead-looking beans, and soak overnight, at least 6 hours. Drain and rinse.

2. In heavy bottom skillet or pot, crisp bacon. (If you want to use just one pot, cook the bacon in the same pot you plan to use for the beans. If you want the cooking process to go quicker, use a skillet for this step and begin cooking the beans simultaneously, according to instructions in step 3.) Drain on separate plate and pour off all but 1 Tablespoon of the bacon grease. When cooled, roughly chop bacon.

3. In the grease, sweat onions for 2-3 minutes until translucent. Drain most of the liquid off the tomatoes and add to skillet, stirring just until slightly softened. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Meanwhile, add 6-8 cups lukewarm water (enough to cover beans by 1 inch) to beans in a large pot along with whole, peeled garlic cloves, thyme, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for 20-40 minutes. Check frequently, tasting 5-6 beans at a time, as they may not all cook evenly.

5. When beans are al dente (I call this “edible, but not soft enough yet”), add tomato and onion mixture, along with bacon, to the bean pot. Return to simmer. When beans are cooked through but still solid (skins not bursting), remove from heat and discard thyme sprigs, garlic cloves, and any peppercorns you can reach. (It’s okay to leave them in if you don’t mind biting down on pepper every now and then–they soften enough in the pot to be edible, but they are still a little spicy). Stir in 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

6. Assemble bowls by placing 1 cup of chopped Swiss chard in the bottom of each bowl and topping with bean stew. Squeeze lemon over beans and sprinkle with remaining chopped parsley and/or parmesan cheese and olive oil.

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