We’re back with another (anti) recipe, this time for really great beans! This recipe can feed 4 to 8 people depending on the portion sizes and use. For example, if serving it with pasta it will stretch a little further, especially if blending to make a sauce. But as a soup or served up in a bowl it might only be enough for 4 people.
One of the most beautiful things about beans is they’re easy. They’re also flexible, absorb great flavor, and don’t really require a strict recipe. So why are we writing this ‘recipe’? Well, it’s more of a guide, a great place to start with a sturdy foundation. Take this and make it your own by adding/omitting the spices and type of soffritto to your preference!
Should You Soak The Beans?
We always soak our beans regardless of the type. Presoaking allows the beans to absorb water and soften which speeds up the cooking process. Of course, different types of beans will have different soak times, but in the end, we soak all beans, including lentils.
People seem to have strong opinions on soaking vs not soaking, ourselves included. For us, it comes down to saving time, gas/electricity (which also saves $!), and personal energy. Since we operate a small, family-owned business across two continents that heavily focuses on food, we already spend a ton of time cooking and creating recipes. We prefer to spend any extra time outside of the kitchen and don’t want to be going back and forth to the stove for 4 hours waiting for the beans to cook.
Black Beans, Cannellini, Black Eyed Peas, Garbanzo Beans
No two batches of beans are the same. In addition, depending on how long beans have been dried or on the shelf they will require different soaking times. Basically there is no one size fits all rule for soaking beans.
We soak black beans and cannellini for 6 to 8 hours. Black-eyed peas and garbanzos are soaked the longest, with black-eyed peas being soaked for at least 8 hours and garbanzo for up to 14 hours. Garbanzo can be extremely hard, therefore, need a lot of extra soak time.
Reach into the bowl and grab a bean. Squeeze it between your thumb and forefinger. If it’s soft enough to break under medium pressure then they’re ready to be cooked.
A lot of people don’t soak lentils because they can cook quite quickly. We soak for about 30 minutes to 1 hour. Then we cook them up like any other bean and they’re ready to go! Lentils are also delicious when blended and used as a pasta sauce.
When cooking beans you’re not familiar with, test the required soaking time. Cover them with water in the morning and see if they soften up by the afternoon that way you can make them for dinner.
Keep Or Toss Bean Water
After we soak beans we dispose of the bean water or soaking liquid. Italians are big on digestion, something that is going to be different for everyone. We notice that it’s easier to digest beans after they’ve been soaked and the liquid has been discarded. We also rinse the beans a few times before the cooking process.
This is a personal preference. A lot of people love keeping bean water to cook the beans in or even storing to use in a broth later because it has great flavor. Do what’s best for you.
Start With Soffritto
You can start this recipe with bacon/guanciale/pancetta or skip the meat and go for a traditional soffritto of extra virgin olive oil, carrot, and celery. If you start with a fatty meat, make sure all the fat ‘melts’, see our soffritto recipe. Then take a look at the amount of fat in the pan and decide how much olive oil to add, if any.
There should be a thin yet clearly visible layer of fat in the pan. However, it varies depending on the fat content of the meat. It’s usually best to add a few tbsp of olive oil to ensure there’s enough fat/olive oil in the pan to lightly fry the soffritto because this is what carries the flavors throughout the dish.
You can cook beans in bean soaking water, regular water, or chicken or vegetable broth. However, if you’re using broth make sure it’s not salty. While salted broth might be great for risotto or ragu alla bolognese, it’s not great for beans.
Making a Bean Pasta Sauce
Just about any beans can be cooked up and served with pasta in a sort of soup or cooked and blended into a concentrated sauce. Both work extremely well. When beans are blended they become incredibly rich and creamy, coupled with starchy pasta you have a comforting plate of pasta.
Salt At The End
It’s super important to only salt beans at the end of the cooking process. Beans absorb a lot of salt and at the beginning of the cooking process, there’s a lot of liquid in the pot. Therefore, if you salt according to the amount of liquid in the pot at the beginning of the cooking process instead of the end it’s really easy to oversalt the dish. In addition, if you’re adding things like cheese rinds or some freshly grated cheese at the end of the cooking process those can also add salt. Lastly, if you’re using broth for this recipe instead of water you might not need to add any salt at all. We recommend you use a broth with no salt or a small amount. It’s always better to under salt and have to add more at the end.
Wait until about 10 minutes before the beans are completely cooked to salt. This will allow the salt to move through the dish and avoid any oversalting as only a small amount of liquid is going to evaporate.
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If you make this soffritto, please leave a comment and give this recipe a rating! We love to hear from you and do respond to comments. And if you do make this recipe, don’t forget to tag us on Instagram and Facebook and use #EXAUoliveoil so we can repost!
Really Great Beans
- 400 grams dry beans
- 2 medium carrots
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 medium onion
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 3 sprigs rosemary
- 4 leaves sage
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (low sodium or no salt) (optional)
- 1 spicy pepper (optional)
- 1 rind parmigiano or other hard cheese rind (optional)
- 2 to 3 strips bacon or guanciale (optional)
Soaking The Beans
Add the beans to a large bowl or pot, this vessel should be at least 2x taller than the beans.
Cover the beans with 3” water and let soak for 6 to 12 hours.
Add more water if the water level drops and the beans become exposed.
Strain the beans and rinse them well with water.
Cooking The Beans
Make a soffritto cooking first the guanciale and then adding the onion, carrot, and celery. Add the seasoning and spicy pepper a few minutes before adding the beans. Make sure the spices truly fry.
Add the strained beans and stir well.
Cover everything with at least 2 inches of water and/or broth.
Put the lid on and turn heat to high for 10 to 15 minutes or until there’s a roaring boil.
Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low and slightly crack the lid if desired. If you don’t want to check in on beans for more than 30 mins then turn heat to low and leave the lid on.
Add the cheese rind.
Let the beans cook for 1 to 2 hours depending on the type and desired consistency. Be sure to stir every 20 to 30 minutes and check for any sticking on the bottom of the pot. If you notice sticking or attachment turn down the heat.
About 20 to 30 minutes before beans are done check the amount of liquid in the pot. If it’s too watery for you remove the lid and keep cooking. If the beans are looking a bit dry simply add a bit more water and keep the lid on.
About 10 minutes before beans are done add desired level of salt.
Once the beans have reached the desired consistency turn off heat and serve.
Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and some freshly grated parmigiano or blend into a sauce.