Currently cooking from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark
There’s an allure about bean dishes – filling! thrifty! nutritious! – that makes me feel kind of ashamed that I don’t eat more beans, especially homemade ones (in other words, opening a can is cheating somehow). There’s just something about the whole soaking ahead of time that I can never remember to do. Fortunately, Clark admits that she has the same problem and promises that you don’t really need to presoak your beans; they’ll just take longer to cook. So with that in mind, when I started making this stew with unsoaked beans, I was prepared to wait several extra hours while the beans softened. Fortunately, I used small cannellini beans, and they were done in under two hours. But after one bite of this bean stew, I would have happily waited another two hours for it. It was everything a bean stew ought to be. Tender, flavorful beans in a rich, meaty sauce. I have to admit that I did make a few small changes, but even so, I feel pretty safe saying this is my favorite recipe out of this book so far.
With the exception of the farro, this is a “throw everything in the pot and let it cook” dish. Dried white beans, olive oil (a lot of it), garlic, celery, onion, clove, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf and a Parmesan rind thrown into a pot, covered with water and simmered until the beans are tender. Once the beans get close to being done, you boil up a pot of farro, pasta style, until the grain is tender. When you are ready to serve the dish, half of the beans are roughly pureed, along with more garlic, and stirred back into the pot to thicken the stew. The stew is then served over the farro with some more olive oil and lemon juice drizzled on.
I think there are a lot of things that contribute to the most excellent flavor of this dish. First, don’t skimp on the olive oil. Second, please do use a Parmesan rind if you can. And third, throw something piggy in with the beans. I used some chopped up ham. A ham hock, bacon, even sausage will add a nice meaty flavor. As to the changes I made, first, I used dried herbs instead of fresh (I’m pretty sure there are no fresh herbs in Northern Idaho right now, and if there are, they cost an arm and a leg), I added chopped up Swiss chard to the beans at the end, I didn’t throw away the onion after cooking, and I used bulgur instead of farro.
The only change I’d make next time is to forget the grain. This stew is so hearty and filling that I don’t think it needs the grain and that’s just an extra pot to wash.