Editor’s note: Since I wrote this post as a newsletter, I’ve taken the advice of my friend Mary Ann and upgraded the beans: I ordered several bags of dried heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, and the dish you see above was my first go at the cassoulet beans. More bean content to come!
If there’s one thing I can claim during this pandemic, it’s that I can now work magic with a humble can of beans.
Like most of us, I stocked up way back in March: Chickpeas. Black beans. Great Northern and Cannellini. Even pinto beans, which I had not a clue what to do with, back in those innocent days known as pre-Covid Times.
I wish I’d known about the possibilities of a can of beans when I was younger, strapped for cash and committing regular atrocities in my kitchen with dried pasta, frozen vegetables and powdery Parmesan cheese. (I still like all three of these things, but perhaps not together, and most of the time, I opt for better cheese.)
Beans are good for you. They’re filling. They’re super duper cheap. And most of all? With some basic kitchen staples and some fresh herbs, they’re transformative.
Take the moment I realized that refried beans (which, back in those financially strapped days, I used to buy pre-made in a can and spoon over a package of Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice and whatever random salsa I had on hand) are actually made of pinto beans! So I drained and rinsed mine, threw them in a pan with a glug of good olive oil, some cayenne, salt, pepper and fresh oregano, roughly diced, then, just when they started to sizzle, aggressively smashed half the beans and stirred it all together. The result? Better than any pre-made refried beans I’ve ever had.
I’ve done a similar doctoring job on a can of black beans. Combine the undrained beans with a good tablespoon or so of coconut oil, and let them simmer. The oil melts and the bean juice reduces. Season them how you will. They’ll be good however you do it: I like salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Don’t sneeze on a sprinkle of Penzey’s Adobo Seasoning. A classic non-recipe recipe that works in a side dish or shoved in any kind of taco or burrito contraption you cook up.
Want more of a bean-centric meal? The New York Times Cooking has two great recipes. First, the one you see above, which I made last night: Cannellini-Bean Pasta With Beurre Blanc. It’s a soupy, flavorful affair. Be sure to have some good bread on hand to sop up the flavorful broth. The second is this delicious but simple Cheesy, Spicy Black Bean Bake which is wonderful spread over chips or inside a warm tortilla.
If you have some dusty cans of beans in your cupboard, put them to work this week. Don’t expect the bean dishes to be Instagram-ready, by the way. They’ll be brown and mostly mushy. But they won’t suffer for it. You won’t either. I promise.