I found this recipe in the New York Times and decided to make it. I did not have some of the ingredients on hand, so I made due with what I had. The NYT recipe calls for tomato & pomegranate syrup, I used cider & apricots. Once you are confident with the basics of cooking, you can gracefully re-fit a recipe to your needs & wants.
I have a sentimental attachment to baked beans. Growing up, my brother would beg my mother to make her French Canadian baked beans. We gobbled them up with glee. I’ve never made my Mom’s recipe for my family, preferring to keep those memories in that little house on Cartier Street in Sault Ste. Marie – just between my brother, mother & I for a while longer. I forgot I could bake beans on other ways. Oh, yes indeed, there is more than one way to bake a bean.
This recipe is delicious. My husband is a devout meat-eater & admitted he could have loved this dish more with roast lamb or chicken on top. He did love it on its own though, maybe for lunch not dinner. I was perfectly satisfied with this as a main course. Adding nuts & cheese makes it lovely stew of a main meal. I did not use nuts of cheese for this one.
1 pound white beans, soaked for 4 hours or overnight in 2 quarts of water, and drained
1 bay leaf
6 cups water (more as needed)
2 large onions, preferably sweet red onions, finely chopped
1 – 2 cups apple cider
1 cups dried apricots
A few fresh rosemary sprigs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch Swiss chard or kale, stemmed, leaves washed and chopped
1/2 cup (2 ounces) finely chopped walnuts, toasted
Feta, goat or other tangy cheese – optional
Combine the drained beans, bay leaf & water (enough to cover by an inch) in a large, ovenproof casserole or Dutch oven & bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat, cover & simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until beans are tender tender. Check from time to time to make sure the beans are submerged, add water if necessary. Remove the bay leaf. I add dried seaweed to my beans for added minerals, you don’t have to.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat 3 tablespoons or so of the olive oil in a medium heavy skillet over medium heat & add onions & rosemary. Cook, stirring often, until tender and lightly caramelized, (about 10 minutes). Remove rosemary before the leaves start to fall off. Turn the heat to low, add a generous pinch of salt, cover and continue to simmer, stirring often, until the onions are dark brown and have melted down to half their original volume, another 15 to 20 minutes (or more, depending on you & your stove – take your time, enjoy the process).
In the meantime, reduce that apple cider to 1/3 of a cup by letting it gently simmer down and work on stewing your apricots. Chop apricots into 3 or 4 pieces & cook in 4 cups of water until they are fluffy & gorgeous. Let the simmer down in volume as well. I used about three cups worth of apricots & the apricot water in the bean mix. Don’t worry if you end up with less, the flavour will just be more compact. You can always add more water to the casserole as it is going in the oven.
When the onions are finished, stir them into the beans, along with the stewed apricots, reduced cider and salt and pepper to taste. Place in the oven and bake, covered, for 1 hour. The beans should be very tender. Check from time to time to make sure the beans are submerged; add water as necessary or just press down on the beans to cover them with liquid. (They shouldn’t be swimming, though.) You really do not want dry beans, but you also do not want them swimming in water, use your best judgement. I thought mine would turn out more water-logged by placing the beans in the oven submerged, but I was wrong (yay).
Uncover the beans, taste and adjust salt, and stir in the Swiss chard or kale. Sprinkle the walnuts over the top, as well as the feta or goat cheese and drizzle on the final tablespoon of oil. Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes more. Remove from the oven, taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot or warm.
Yield: 8 servings