My newest overdue obsession: Rancho Gordo. It has been over a year since I promised that I would forevermore soak my beans with glee and ebullience as I have seen the light of freshly soaked beans at last. Sadly, this didn’t last long. I found that the beans I could get at various reputable stores were terribly unreliable–they didn’t get soft, their skins flaked, their flavor lacked; in short: they were on the shelf too long. Enter Rancho Gordo, an heirloom bean grower out of Napa Valley, which I have read so much about but was cautious to buy something so particular from so far away. I’m glad I got over it because these beans are delicious. There’s no comparison. I started with the European Sampler but you’d better believe I’ll be getting some of their Mexican/Latin Sampler soon.
I used my first batch of Runner Cannellini beans to make a Fast White Bean Stew I’ve had bookmarked from Gourmet Magazine for some time. The results were… good enough for a Tuesday night, if you know what I mean. I needed more zip, in my mind… some smoky spicy Spanish paprika, red pepper flakes, a glug of vinegar or wine, less broth. I haven’t gotten back to it to figure it out, but I suspect that one or several of you will come up with something brilliant. Only the show stopper beans saved it. It has ham in it, but this could be easily skipped if you’re vegetarian or rendered extra-carnivorous with sausage. I used spinach, but I think that a heavier green, if cooked longer, could work as well. In summary: use this recipe only as guidance and hit it up with your creativity.
Soaking Dried Beans
Rancho Gordo wants soaking beans to be less complicated that it is made out to be. There is no one method, they tell you–just simmer them until they are soft. Soaking them first can speed up the process, vegetables or stock can make them more flavorful, but in the end–and especially if you’re using their delicious beans–you could do neither and still have a stunning dish.
I used the cooking method outlined on their site, but to summarize:
If you can, presoak the beans for a few hours, overnight or up to a day. Put the beans and their soaking water to a large pot–there is no reason to discard the soaking water. Bring the pot to a full boil for five minutes, before reducing the heat as low as you can possibly go so that bubbles will still appear. Depending on the size of your bean and the amount of time you have soaked them, they should be ready in between two or three hours.
Fast White Bean Stew
Adapted from Gourmet, January 2007
As I mentioned above, this stew is completely edible but a wee lackluster. Do consider kicking it up, as they say, with spices and extra ingredients.
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 (14- to 15-oz) can stewed tomatoes
1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 (19-oz) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (3 cups)
1 (1/2-lb) piece baked ham (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (5-oz) bag baby
romaine (er, what? I used spinach) or baby arugula (10 cups loosely packed)
8 (3/4-inch-thick) slices baguette
Cook garlic in 1/4 cup oil in a 3 1/2- to 4 1/2-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat, stirring, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Coarsely cut up tomatoes in can with kitchen shears, then add (with juice) to garlic in oil. Stir in broth, beans, ham, and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Stir in greens and cook until wilted, 3 minutes for romaine or 1 minute for arugula.
While stew is simmering, preheat broiler. Put bread on a baking sheet and drizzle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil. Broil 3 to 4 inches from heat until golden, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.
Serve stew with toasts.