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Social distancing means fewer trips out to eat or shop, so we’ll be eating more shelf-stable basics like beans, rice, lentils, pasta, polenta, and other grains.
Fortunately, those basics are delicious. I’ve usually got a couple of these cooked and in the refrigerator. It makes dinner easy, and you can mix it up. Rice and beans one night, beans and barley the next, maybe pasta e fagiole with the rest of the beans.
As we ride out this new (temporary) normal, we are going to share some of our favorite ways to cook those pantry staples. We’ll start with a family favorite: Beans.
Making beans delicious starts with cooking dried beans. Canned beans might do in a pinch, but they don’t have the secret benefit of dried beans: bean broth. Cooking dried beans generates a deeply flavored broth, even if you cook them with just water and salt.
I cook all beans the same way. I put about a half-pound of dried beans in my clay bean pot, add roughly 4 times as much water, stir in a big spoonful of salt, and pour in a healthy glug of extra virgin olive oil. I put the lid on and cook them in a low oven, about 225F, for several hours, checking occasionally to make sure the beans are covered in water.
They cook anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, depending on the size of the beans. My old gas stove has a pilot light that keeps the oven warm, and when the beans are tender, I often turn the oven off and put them back in for a few hours. In my experience, beans cooked longer are better. And you don’t need a special pot; anything you can put in the oven works, and I’ve used a piece of foil for a lid.
If I want to make something like New Orleans-style red beans, I’ll cook the smoked sausage and seasoning vegetables separately, add the cooked beans, and simmer for awhile. Most of the time I eat the beans just as they come from the bean pot.
But you can cook beans on the stove top, with or without soaking. I like this detailed info about cooking beans in the Rancho Gordo manner, but the basic approach is simple. Cover the beans (soaked or not) with a couple of inches of water, add salt, bring to a gentle boil, and simmer until done. The cooking time varies depending on the size and type of bean.
A half pound of dried beans will cook up to about a quart and half, more if you cook them on the stove where you need a bit more water. They’ll keep in the refrigerator for a week.