Friday, February 01, 2008

Tuscan Bean Stew

I don't know about where you are but it is rainy and cold here in Atlanta. This is great weather for a hearty soup and here is one that you will make again after you try it. This particular recipe is from Cook's Illustrated but it is pretty classic.

Try not to skip the step about soaking the beans in salted water as it makes a big difference in how the beans turn out. This is also true of the the slow cooking in the oven which leaves the beans nice and tender but doesn't cause them to explode into mush.

Note: I just bought some dried cannelinni beans yesterday at Whole Foods and was shocked at the price. These were Bob's Red Mill in the24 oz bag and they were $8.50. Ouch! If I didn't like them so well in soup I might have switched to some of the other much cheaper varieties. You might be able to get away with using canned beans with a little adjustment to the recipe and they might be cheaper. I like the ones from Progresso which I use in salads and pasta often. Just make sure you rinse them well before adding them to a recipe.

One other thing! This recipe calls for chicken stock and rest assured that Swanson's Organic in the box is the best you will find. This is not just my opinion as several taste tests at Cook's and Saveur have confirmed it. You vegetarians will not be disappointed using Swanson's vegetable stock either. While I am recommending ingredients try and use canned San Marzano tomatoes in your cooking. The are imported from Italy and really are the best canned product around. Of course, if you have home canned tomatoes use them.

Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew
I prefer the creamier texture of beans soaked overnight for this recipe. If you're short on time, quick-soak them: Place the rinsed beans in a large heat-resistant bowl. Bring 2 quarts of water and 3 tablespoons of salt to a boil. Pour the water over the beans and let them sit for 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans well before proceeding with step 2. Note: If pancetta is unavailable, substitute 4 ounces of bacon (about 4 slices). For a more substantial dish, serve the stew over toasted bread.

Serves 8

Table salt
1 pound dried cannellini beans (about 2 cups), rinsed and picked over
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil , plus extra for drizzling
6 ounces pancetta , cut into 1/4-inch pieces (see note)
1 large onion , chopped medium (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 medium celery ribs , cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3/4 cup)
2 medium carrots , peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
8 medium garlic cloves , peeled and crushed
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 bunch kale or collard greens (about 1 pound), stems trimmed and leaves chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 8 cups loosely packed)
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes , drained and rinsed
1 sprig fresh rosemary

Ground black pepper
8 slices country white bread , each 1 1/4 inches thick, broiled until golden brown on both sides and rubbed with garlic clove (optional)

1. Dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts cold water in large bowl or container. Add beans and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.

2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Heat oil and pancetta in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is lightly browned and fat has rendered, 6 to 10 minutes. Add onion, celery, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 10 to 16 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in broth, water, bay leaves, and soaked beans. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook until beans are almost tender (very center of beans will still be firm), 45 minutes to 1 hour.

3. Remove pot from oven and stir in greens and tomatoes. Return pot to oven and continue to cook until beans and greens are fully tender, 30 to 40 minutes longer.

4. Remove pot from oven and submerge rosemary sprig in stew. Cover and let stand 15 minutes. Discard bay leaves and rosemary sprig and season stew with salt and pepper to taste. If desired, use back of spoon to press some beans against side of pot to thicken stew. Serve over toasted bread, if desired, and drizzle with olive oil.


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