Published Thursday, December 27, 2012

Begin the new year in an old way


American Institute of Cancer Research

Every year, I make at least one food-related New Year’s resolution. This year it is to cook beans from scratch more often than using them from a can.

“Good luck,” you say, thinking of the time involved. “Get real” is my reply. Cooking your own beans has multiple benefits. Let me count the ways, health first:

No sodium. You add just the amount you wish after the beans are cooked.

No BPA. At this time, beans sold in BPA-free containers are still rare.

No preservatives. Sulfites are a common additive to maintain the color in canned beans.

Save money and space. A one-pound bag of dried beans makes as many servings as you get in about 4 (15-ounce) cans. Or buy a few ounces of dried beans in bulk. They cost even less and make just enough for one or two people.

Finally, let’s address the big issue – time. My routine is to soak a cup of beans overnight or toss them in a bowl at breakfast time and add water. Unless beans are old, 4 to 6 hours is usually enough soaking. Most beans then cook in 1 hour, time during which you can be doing other things, food related or outside the kitchen.

Two reasons my resolution will work: first, a small amount of dried beans, one-half to one cup, cooks faster than a big pot and makes the right amount for a small household. What is leftover after one meal keeps in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. And pre-cooked beans can be used in many ways, from making white bean or black bean hummus, to being tossed into a salad or added to a bowl of soup.

Second: you must try this Tuscan Bean Soup – to see for yourself that the flavor and texture of home-cooked beans is so superior that it is fully worth the effort.


Tuscan White Bean Soup


1 cup dried navy beans


Cold water, enough to cover beans


1 leek, white part only, cut into 1-inch pieces


3/4 cup coarsely chopped onion


1/2 cup chopped carrot, in 3/4-inch pieces


1/2 cup chopped celery, in 3/4-inch pieces


1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, loosely packed


1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil


4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth


2 cups water


1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary


Salt and freshly ground pepper


Fried leek, optional, for garnish (see note)

Place beans in deep pot and cover with cold water to 1-inch above beans. Bring water to boil and simmer, uncovered, for 1 minute. Off heat, cover and let beans sit for 1 hour. Drain beans.

In same pot, cover beans with cold water to 2-inches above beans. Over medium-high heat, bring just to gentle boil. Cover pot partway so it does not boil over, and simmer beans until soft and creamy, 45-60 minutes. Set beans aside in cooking liquid until ready to use. Or, if not using within 4 hours, drain cooled beans and refrigerate, tightly covered, for up to 4 days.

In food processor, pulse leek, onion, carrot, celery and parsley until finely chopped and moist.

In medium Dutch oven or small soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped vegetables and cook, stirring, until they soften, 5 minutes. Cover tightly, reduce heat and gently cook vegetables until they let their juices, 10 minutes. Increase heat and cook vegetables until golden, 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add broth, 2 cups water and rosemary. Simmer, covered, until vegetables are very soft, 20 minutes. Off heat, use immersion blender to whirl soup until partly pureed, with some vegetables bits remaining.

Add 2 cups drained cooked beans to soup. Return pot to heat and cook until beans are heated through. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. Divide soup among 6 deep soup bowls. If desired garnish with Fried Leek. Or pass grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

Note: For Fried Leek garnish, use white and 1-inch green part of medium leek. Halve leek lengthwise. Cut each half crosswise into 1 1/2-inch sections, then cut each section lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips. Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in small skillet over medium-high heat. Add leek and cook, stirring occasionally, until strips are limp and start to brown, 3-4 minutes. Stir often until some of leek is deep brown. Drain fried leek on paper towels. As it cools, the browned bits will get crisp. Fried leek can be rolled in a paper towel and kept at room temperature for 8 hours. Use the same day.

Makes 6 servings.

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