from Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home
Jacques: Beans are a perfect canvas or carrier, for the flovors of whatever you cook with them. At home, we love to put a piece of portk--a pork shoulder or a ham hock--right into the beans to cook, along with a bay leaf and some thyme. You could do the same thing with a pork chop, or just a piece of ham. And beans are delicious when flavored with poultry--cook them with the carcass from a roast chicken or turkey. Or put in some onions and carrots and a package of chicken necks and you have a tasty stew for six people for very little money. For a dish like this one, I would not soak the beans before cooking. These common small white beans grown in this country, have usually been harvested and dried just in the preceding year and consequently are not that hard. They will cook relatively fast without soaking, and you can always add more liquid and extend the cooking until they are completely done. You want to strain out the liquid here so the dish is more like a stew than a soup. If you are making the beans to serve with a roast leg of lamb, you could take this reserved bean liquid, which is already slightly syrupy, and use it to deglaze the roasting pan. You'll have a naturally thick and delicious sauce.
1 pound Great Northern means, soaked or not as you wish
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 ouces lean pancetta, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
3 tablespoons peeled and thinly sliced garlic
2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons choped parsley, for garnish
Drain beans, if you have soaked them, or wash them and put them in the pot with 6 cups fresh cold water (8 cups if not soaked) and the salt. Bring to a boil and simmer gently, partially covered. After 40 minutes of cooking, taste several beans to check for doneness--you want them all to be tender to the bit but not mushy. Simmer longer if necessary.
White the beans are cooking, heat the olive oil in the frying pan. Add the pancetta pieces, toss to coat with oil, and cook for a couple of minutes over moderate heat. Stir in the onions, garlic slices, thyme, and pepper and cook over moderately low heat for about 10 mintues, stirring and tossing frequently, until the onions and garlic are soft. Set aside.
When the beans are nearly tender, stir in the sauteed flavorings and return to the simmer. Cook, partially covered over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 20 mintues, or until the beans are fully cooked and soft.
Remove from heat. Strain or ladle out any liquid covering the beans.
Just before serving, sprinkle chapped parsley over the beans.
The bean ragout can be made up to 2 or 3 days ahead; let it cool, then cover and refrigerate. Reheat slowly for serving, using some of the reserved liquid to moisten the ragout, which may thicken on standing.
Makes 5 to 6 cups.
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