Baked beans! They are the embodiment of cheap, quick food in the British diet and I must admit that I am not impartial to some hot baked beans every so often, particularly winter lunchtimes. My preferred method of eating baked beans is on buttered toast with lots of cheese. But – and this is important – the cheese must be put on the toast before the beans and not on top of the beans, as (in my opinion) this is a much more effective way of turning the cheese to turn into a melted, flavourful mess.
Before I continue this short homage to the humble baked bean and give you the history behind this recipe, I want to thank my brother for lending me his camera – although baked beans do not lend themselves to mouth-watering food photography (and I only had it for the final photos of this recipe) it has been a joy to be able to use a nice camera instead of the old point and shoot that I’ve been using ever since the sad and unexpected sudden demise of my digital SLR (after years of loyal service, it suddenly decided to stop working…). Now all I need to do is figure out how to take the camera off the automatic 0.0000000001 second shutter speed.
This recipe started its life towards the end of last year, when I was doing a quick grocery shop and it occurred to me that making my own beans might be cheaper and better for me (avoiding lots of extra salt and sugar!) than the tinned variety. I didn’t really know where to start, other than the fact that most tinned baked beans are made from haricot beans, so I went to the baked bean section of the supermarket I was in to inspect some tins of baked beans and see what makes the classic baked bean flavour. It wasn’t long before the amount of time I was spending in the baked bean section of the aisle started to attract some strange looks, so I mentally collated the varying details provided in the list of ingredients on different tins, decided that bacon (which was not listed as an ingredient on any tin) would definitely be a good thing to add, and hurriedly left that aisle to gather my ingredients and leave the shop. The speed of my culinary (though admittedly not gourmet) adventure was soon slowed by the overnight soaking required of dry beans, but the wait was worth it! You can use any dry beans that take your fancy – so far (and as you will see if you compare the final photos with the method photos) I’ve tried black-eye beans and cannellini beans and both have worked well. Just make sure you follow the instructions on the packet regarding soaking, boiling and simmering times to make sure your beans are cooked properly. One of the tags I’ve given this is ‘quick suppers’ – not because it is quick to prepare but because, once prepared, it is quick to re-heat (and I think a little tastier for the time the flavours have had to develop) when you want something easy.
What you’ll need:
500 gram packet of dry beans, such as cannellini beans, black-eye beans or haricot beans
250 grams bacon
1-2 cloves of garlic
Little bit of olive oil
1/2 cup concentrated tomato puree
About 5 cloves
About 3 bay leaves (I used dried ones)
Salt (optional) and pepper
Lots and lots of water
What to do:
1. Put the dry beans in a pot or large bowl and cover them completely with cold water. Leave the beans to soak in the water for 12 to 24 hours before you want to cook them (every time I’ve made these, I’ve ended up soaking my beans for 24 hours because it has been easier to prepare them the night before I need them rather than in the morning, but if you’re more organised than me 12 hours of soaking should be fine).
2. Finely chop the onion and garlic (or put the garlic through a garlic press) and cut the bacon into relatively small pieces.
3. Drain the beans and set to one side.
4. Fry the onion and garlic until softened in a little bit of olive oil in a large, thick-bottomed pot. Add the bacon to the onions and garlic and cook thoroughly (at this point, I feel somewhat embarrassed as I’ve just realised my ‘method’ photo for this stage demonstrates my inability to follow a recipe, even my own, and my laziness – I cooked the bacon and onions all together because I couldn’t be bothered to do the onion first…).
4. Drain the beans and add them to the pot with the onions, garlic and bacon. Add to the pot the tomato puree, cloves, bay leaves, salt (if you’re using it – I found the bacon and tomato puree made it salty enough without adding any more; if you’re not sure, leave out the salt for now and add then add some if necessary at stage 6 below), pepper and enough cold water to cover the beans. Stir everything together well and put the pot on the stove over a high heat.
5. At this point, refer to the bean packet to see how they should be cooked. Most beans (including the cannellini beans and black-eye beans that I’ve used to make this at different times) will need the water to be brought to the boil and then boiled rapidly for at least 10 minutes before turning the heat down to simmer until the beans are soft (all without the lid on the pot). Depending on the type of bean, this will probably take 1-2 hours. Check the beans occasionally during this time and add more water if they are starting to get dry (I added boiling water) and give them a quick stir every so often to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Some people recommend that you remove any scum that rises to the surface during this cooking process although I haven’t noticed much scum any of the times I’ve made these.
6. When the beans are soft, adjust the seasoning according to taste (this is when I would add salt if it needed any) and liquid according to preference (if it is very wet, you can leave it on the heat for a bit longer to evaporate more water, or stir in more boiling water if it is too dry). If you can be bothered (which I usually can’t), fish out the bay leaves and cloves and either eat straight away or cool and then store for a few days in the fridge, taking portions and re-heating as needed.