Dried beans have got to be one of the most versatile items in a pantry. Canned beans and legumes are excellent when you’re strapped for time, but when you can plan ahead, give dried beans a try for some added variety. And in talking about dried beans, not all beans are created equal. Be as particular with your beans as you are with meat or produce selections and even if it’s once in awhile, pay a little more for higher quality. Heirloom beans offer a complexity of different flavors, and need very little adornment to be delicious, plus they’re really pretty!
Soaking your beans overnight and then simmering them in the broth of your choice will yield a nice bounty to be split up and used in several recipes. Prepared beans can be frozen for several months, though they may break down a bit in your freezer. I’m sharing a super simple, but very different-than-the-norm recipe for Heirloom beans with thyme, cream and olive oil. This recipe can be a meatless main dish or hearty side. Add meat to it by searing chunks of uncured ham, or add leftover Easter ham! For a super cool presentation that tastes incredible, cook up some good quality pepper bacon or black forest bacon and serve two slices in an X over the top of the beans. The creamy broth and olive oil mixture is begging for a substantial hunk of bread for dipping.
For this recipe, I recommend using at least three varieties of beans for eye candy. I got the very cool Cranberry, Flageolet, and Orca (aptly named after orca whales) beans at my local gourmet market. The brand I bought is Zursun Idaho Heirloom Beans.
Of course, we get bombarded frequently about the healthy benefits of beans and legumes; vitamins, minerals and fiber, and an excellent protein option. But they’re just plain delicious and can be used in so many ways. Give heirloom beans a try soon. They’re super tasty and the huge variety makes them a lot of fun too.
- 2 cups mixed dried heirloom beans soaked overnight, drained (see bottom of recipe for method) Also see cook's note about measuring beans
- 2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
- 4 sprigs thyme plus extra leaves for serving
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup heavy cream not ultra-pasturized
- Flaky sea salt
- Olive oil for serving flavored, if you have it, is an added bonus
- Bring beans, stock, and thyme sprigs to a gentle simmer in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, skimming any foam from surface, until beans are tender, 1-1 1/2 hours, depending on types (After 1 hour, taste a few beans and cook longer if needed).
- Discard the thyme stems, season liberally with black pepper, to your liking, remove from heat, and let sit 30 minutes.
- At this point if you don't want to add cream, the beans can be seasoned with salt/pepper or other herbs and then added thyme and oil. But for a creamy, pretty dish, read on:
- Return to a low simmer and stir in the cream. Season with kosher salt and more pepper, if needed. Serve topped with thyme leaves, sea salt, and drizzled with oil.
- For a hearty, meaty dish, add chunks of uncured ham that you sear for added flavor, or cook some thick pepper bacon or black forest bacon and serve with two pieces placed in an X over the top of beans for nice presentation.
- Be sure to include some crusty, chewy bread for dipping.
- Make ahead information: Beans can be cooked 3 days ahead. let cool; cover and chill.
- How to soak your beans: Sort beans and soak overnight in bowl using 3 times as much water as beans. The next morning rinse beans with cold water.
- Cook's note: I measured 2 cups of beans before soaking. The beans increase in volume overnight. I used all the beans for the recipe completion.
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit magazine.