Monday, June 25, 2018

Summer BBQ = Baked Beans

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.

Agrodolce, a combination of sour and sweet.

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.

My friend Jim Dixon got me started thinking about the Italian idea of "agrodolce," combining sour (agro) and sweet (dolce) flavors using vinegar and sugar (or honey) and often onions or fruit to spark the other flavors in the dish, much as we use salt for the same purpose. As opposed to the baked beans I grew up on, ketchup-y and, to my tastebuds, a bit too sweet, the use of the sweet-and-sour agrodolce took this tried-and-true picnic dish to a whole new level.

And adding a bit of bacon or, in this case, a whole ham hock, well, what dish doesn't smoked pork enhance?

Baked Beans Agrodolce

2 c. dried beans*
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3-4 large bay leaves
Smoked ham hock (or 1/4 lb. thick-sliced bacon, cut in 1/4" strips)
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. Add ham hock or bacon, bay leaves, salt and olive oil. Cover, place in oven and bake 7 hours until beans are tender (a slow cooker would work well, too). Monitor every couple of hours to make sure the beans are still covered with liquid; if they're a bit dry, add water to cover and continue cooking.

Two hours before the end of the cooking time for the beans, combine the onions, honey, vinegar and sage in a 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 ham hock and 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.

* Dutch Bullet beans from Ayers Creek Farm hold their shape nicely after hours of cooking.


Becki said...

I made these beans today and we loved them! Our usual baked beans are Boston baked beans, and this was a really nice change. I expect they will be even better tomorrow.
I used mayocoba beans, which get so nice and tender. I have a lot of Old Blue Raw Honey, and I was glad to use it in this. Thanks for the recipe!

Kathleen Bauer said...

Glad you liked them, Becki! I love Old Blue Raw Honey, too. Thanks for reading!