I am a list person. And yesterday I made a list. A list titled “Recipes to Cook in 2012”. My title is slightly a misnomer as it also includes “sub-lists” of ingredients (like polenta and Jerusalem artichokes) and general dishes (like tarte tatin and vegetable lasagna) that I want to attempt this year, as well as cookbooks I hope to delve into. But the specific recipes I’ve had my eye on for the past year or so, like that Quinoa Skillet Bread over at 101cookbooks, that list is the longest. And of course, at least half of it is comprised of desserts.
Come mid-February the desserts will be rolling out of my oven. I promise. But before I jump into a pile of flour, sugar, and butter I decided to give one last go at sticking to my “eat healthy” New Years resolution with this white bean stew.
Now, I’ve never been the hugest bean fan. They alright. I’ll eat them. But they’re certainly not the ingredient I’ll reach for when I’m looking for a tasty dinner or the perfect potluck dish. No no. This bean stew is different though. It draws together a range of relatively simple flavors, from onion and celery to Parmesan rind and Turkish pepper, to become a delicate, yet filling, winter time meal. The snowy Chicago day is making me crave a bowl even as I type.
White Bean Stew with Rosemary, Garlic, and Farro
from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark
Melissa Clark makes a couple really good suggestions about this recipe: Substitute any dried bean for the cannellini beans. Just be aware that the cooking time might change. Look for semi-pearled farro. It cooks faster! You can also use wheat berries, brown rice, or whole wheat Israeli couscous. Lastly, you can add a ham hock or two, some bacon, a smoked turkey neck or wing, or some sautéed sausage if you want the dish to be meaty. No need to use the Parmesan rind if you add meat!
1 pound dried cannellini beans
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 celery stalk, cut in half crosswise (reserve celery leaves for garnishing)
1 large onion halved lengthwise from root to stem so it holds together
1 whole clove (stick in the onion half)
2 rosemary sprigs
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
Piece of Parmesan rind, if you have it
2 ½ teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt, more to taste
1 cup farro, rinsed
Spinach, torn into pieces (optional)
Flaky salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel
¼ teaspoon Turkish or Syrian red pepper such as Urfa, Maras or Aleppo
Chopped celery or parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)
Lemon juice and Parmesan cheese, for serving
If you have the time and would like to soak your beans ahead, this will shorten your cooking time. Put the beans in a large bowl and cover with several inches of water. Let soak for as long as you can. Overnight is optimal but even a few hours will hasten the cooking.
When ready to cook, drain the beans and place them along with the oil, 3 of the garlic cloves, the celery, and the onion in a large pot over medium-heat. Bundle the rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf together, tie securely with kitchen twine, and throw it into the pot (or just throw the untied herbs into the pot, though you will have to fish them out later). Add the Parmesan rind, if using. Add water until everything is just covered and stir in the salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and allow to simmer, partially covered, until the beans are soft. This can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, depending on how long (if at all) you soaked your beans and how old your dried beans were when you go them.
A test of doneness is to place a bean in your palm and blow on it (the natural thing to do since it will be hot). If the skin breaks, it’s ready. Of course, tasting is a better way to tell. If your bean pot starts to look dry before the beans finish cooking, add more water as needed. At the end of cooking, the water should not quite cover the beans.
Meanwhile, while the beans are cooking, prepare the farro. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the farro, pasta style, until softened. This could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending upon what kind you use. Drain well.
Mince the remaining 2 garlic cloves
When the beans are cooked, remove and discard the onion, celery, herbs, and Parmesan ride if you used it. (You can leave the garlic cloves in the pot; they are yummy. There may also be some tiny herb leaves that have detached from the larger sprigs floating loose in the pot. You can leave those in too.) At this point you may want to ladle some of the liquid on the top out depending on how thick you want your stew.
Ladle half of the beans into a food processor or blender, add the minced raw garlic, and puree. Return the bean puree to the pot. (You can skip this step and just stir in the minced garlic; the broth will be thinner but just as tasty). Add the spinach, if using, and simmer until the greens wilt.
Serve the beans over the farro, drizzle each portion with plenty of olive oil, then sprinkle with good flaky salt, red pepper, and celery leaves or parsley. If the stew tastes a bit flat, swirl in some lemon juice at the end to perk up the flavors. Grated Parmesan cheese on top is also nice. But make sure not to skimp on the oil, salt and red pepper when serving. It really makes the whole thing come together.