Sunday, June 01, 2014

Gussy Up Baked Beans: Add an Italian Accent

Quick: Name the most ubiquitous foods at summer picnics.

Hot dogs. Hamburgers. Potato salad. Baked beans. Extra points if you envision them on a picnic table covered with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth. Maybe some smoke from the barbecue wafting by.

They're all-American classics for a reason, of course. Generations have grown up putting yellow mustard and ketchup—spelling it catsup, apparently, has gone the way of the dodo—pickles and onions on their burgers. But sometimes it's fun to mess with the classics once in awhile, especially if the tweaks, if not a paradigm-shifting improvement over the original, at least offer a delicious alternative.

I was musing over contributor Jim Dixon's potato salad recipe that called for green garlic and capers, then remembered a post he'd done a few years ago about baked beans. He'd baked them in the oven and then, to finish them off, added a version of an Italian agrodulce or sweet-and-sour preparation that mimicked good old American baked beans.

I'd soaked a pound of dried purgatorio beans from Ayers Creek Farm overnight and was planning to serve them with a roasted chicken for dinner. Baked beans, I thought, would be the perfect accompaniment and give me the chance to try out Jim's method. A little tweaking was done to his original recipe, of course, but my family liked the new twist on this classic, evidenced by the scraped-clean serving dish. I hope you'll like it as much!

Baked Beans Italian Style

2 c. dried beans (I used borlotto, but pretty much any dried bean would do)
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 bay leaves
1/4 lb. bacon
1 large onion, chopped fine
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. sage leaves, chopped fine

Put dried beans in a pot and add water to cover by at least 2”. Cover and soak overnight on the counter.

Preheat oven to 250°.

Drain water from beans and add fresh water to cover by 1”. Add bacon, bay leaves, salt and olive oil. Cover, place in oven and bake 5 to 7 hours until beans are tender (a slow cooker would work well, too).

One hour before the end of the cooking time for the beans, combine the onions, honey, vinegar and sage in a small saucepan and simmer for 1 hour. When beans are tender, add onion mixture to them and combine, then bake for an additional hour. Remove the bay leaves. Remove the piece of bacon and slice it into pieces or shred it, then stir it back into the beans. Taste for salt and adjust as desired. This is great served right out of the oven but is also spectacular made a day ahead for dinner or a picnic the next day.

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