Up until last night, I've always used canned beans in recipes. I wish I could say it’s because they taste better. Or they’re cheaper. Or they come in prettier colors and sing me neat Pink Floyd songs as I go to sleep at night.
Alas, that ain’t the truth. The truth is more like this: I have never been able to rehydrate dried beans. Ever. Like, in recorded history. Even before I was born, I couldn’t do it. No matter how long I soaked, no matter how many hours I boiled, my dried legumes always stayed dried. Like tiny, grainy BB gun pellets.
Then, I stumbled over The Kitchn's One-Pot Pasta e Fagioli, which uses caramelized onions and a smattering of bacon to flavor a rich broth, in which dried cannellini beans, pasta, and spinach are then cooked to a soft, hearty stew. (Wow, that was a long sentence. Also, A Smattering of Bacon is potentially great title for your next novel about Existentialism.)
And just like that, I have been joined the ranks of the People Who Are Capable of Rehyrdating Beans, or PWACORB. Really, it's kind of a revelation, and not just because dried cannellinis are much creamier than canned. They're also way, way less expensive, use significantly less packaging, and are a comparative breeze to carry. Which? Is important when you're training for the Olympics. (Note: I am not training for the Olympics.)
Back to that recipe, though: I liked it, and it's a wonderful way to incorporate bacon into your diet in a healthy way. However, it did turn kind of mushy. Not unacceptably so. Just more than I would have liked. To remedy this, next time I will:
1) Try using a thicker pasta. I added elbow macaroni, and it softened pretty quickly. A whole-wheat pasta or sturdier mezze penne or orrechiette would have probably held up better.
2) Try adding the pasta last. That way, it won't have so much time to absorb extra water.
Besides that minor issue, we ate it, and have more than enough to last for a week o' office lunches. Not to mention, now I will rehydrate beans with impunity. IMPUNITY, I SAY!
If this looks tasty, you’ll surely enjoy:
One-Pot Pasta e Fagioli
Serves 8 to 10
Adapted from The Kitchn.
1 pound dried cannellini beans
5 strips bacon, chopped
2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin
3 medium celery stalks, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (15-ounce) can chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 pound small pasta (whole-wheat for extra healthiness)
5 thyme sprigs
3 teaspoons salt
10 ounces frozen spinach (fresh would also work)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)
1) In a large mixing bowl, add beans and enough water to cover by an inch or two. Let sit overnight.
2) In a large pot or Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until a little crispy. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon or a spider. Set aside. Get rid of all bacon fat in pot, except for one tablespoon. Add onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized. (This will take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, depending on how large you slice the onions and a few other factors.)
3) Preheat oven to 325 °F.
4) Add celery to onion mixture. Sauté 3 minutes. Add garlic. Sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Scoop half of onion mixture into a bowl and set aside with bacon.
5) Deglaze pot with 1 cup chicken broth, making sure you scrape up all the tasty onion bits stuck to the bottom.
6) Drain beans. Add to pot along with bay leaf, remaining chicken broth, and “enough water to cover the beans and onions by 1 inch.” Cover. Stick in oven and braise for 1 hour. If the beans aren’t soft after 1 hour, cook an additional 15 to 20 minutes.
7) Remove pot from oven. Place on burner and turn it up to medium-high heat. Add reserved bacon, reserved onion mixture, thyme, remaining salt, and pasta. Cook until pasta is almost done. Stir occasionally, and don’t be afraid to add more water if things are getting a little dry.
8) Add block of frozen spinach. Cook, stirring often, until spinach is totally defrosted and spread out in stew. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with parmesan cheese.
OTHER SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Try using a thicker, smaller pasta, or perhaps a whole-wheat pasta. If you’d like it to have more of a chew, add it in with the spinach and cook until al dente. The pasta will soften significantly and absorb water as the stew sits, so don't fear adding more H2O as time goes on.
Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price Per Serving
Nine servings: 312 calories, 3.6 g fat, 6.3 g fiber, 17.8 g protein, $0.68
NOTE: Calculations are for Goya cannellini beans, also known as white kidney beans or alubias.
1 pound dried cannellini beans: 1500 calories, 10 g fat, 40 g fiber, 100 g protein, $1.59
5 strips bacon, chopped: 230 calories, 17.8 g fat, 0 g fiber, 15.7 g protein, $0.83
2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin: 92 calories, 0.2 g fat, 3.1 g fiber, 2 g protein, $0.50
3 medium celery stalks, diced: 17 calories, 0.2 g fat, 1.9 g fiber, 0.8 g protein, $0.30
4 garlic cloves, minced: 17 calories, 0.1 g fat, 0.2 g fiber, 0.7 g protein, $0.32
1 (15-ounce) can chicken broth: 30 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, 5.8 g fiber, $0.66
1 bay leaf: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.02
1/2 pound small pasta: 840 calories, 4 g fat, 8 g fiber, 28 g protein, $0.33
5 thyme sprigs: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.50
3 teaspoons salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.02
10 ounces frozen spinach: 103 calories, 0 g fat, 3.4 g fiber, 6.8 g protein, $1.00
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.02
TOTAL: 2812 calories, 32.3 g fat, 56.6 g fiber, 159.8 g protein, $6.09
PER SERVING (TOTAL/9): 312 calories, 3.6 g fat, 6.3 g fiber, 17.8 g protein, $0.68