Brothy Butter Beans with Caramelized Leeks
I've never met a bean I didn't like, or a dish that couldn't become better by adding beans. I don't discriminate either, canned or dry is all good for me. In fact, I'm usually using canned beans (just rinse and drain well!) because I always have them around. They're there to catch me when my weekly meal plans fall. Despite my best intentions, that happens.
There is something though about a properly cooked bean from dry. A bean fresh from the pot is warm, creamy, and full of flavour. It's created it's own beautifully rich broth too, like two beautiful ingredients ready to be used for the price of one. If you think you don't have time for this, guess what, you're about to be stuck inside while it's too cold out. You're about to have time. If you really don't have time then seriously, stick to canned, it's all good.
I like to make beans on a weekend, when I'm home all day, maybe doing other things in the kitchen or around the house. I only need to add a few ingredients to a good pot of beans to create a full meal (could be sausage or shrimp, grilled zucchini or eggplant, roasted tomatoes or squash, croutons or fresh bread). This time, I used the last of my farmers market leeks (see you next year market!) to make something both rich and slightly sweet to pair with dramatic butter beans. Something about a butter bean, perhaps their size, makes them seem so special. They needed an equally special partner.
The key to a good bean is fat and time. The pot should have a good cap of fat on top, which can come from olive oil or any oils leftover from cooking meats. Call me crazy, but I always save the fatty juices from cooking meats (think bacon fat, roasting chicken) for beans because that is flavourful gold.
Here's how it went down:
1/2 lb dry lima / butter beans (you can just use any white bean though), soaked overnight in fresh water
leek tops and dark greens
1 head of garlic, sliced in half
1 Roma tomato OR 2 tbsp tomato paste
a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary
1/2 onion, cut into quarters
salt and pepper
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
3 large leeks, sliced into half moons and thoroughly rinsed
1/4 cup white wine
olive oil to finish
Always sift through your dry beans to make sure nothing else snuck in there (like other grains)
Drain the beans from the water they were soaking in overnight, and cover them with fresh water in a pot. Add the leek, garlic, tomato, onion, herbs and oil or saved meat fats (there is just no way to make that sound good but trust me it is)
Bring to a simmer, skimming the foam from the top every once in a while. There are 'rules' about salt and beans. Many people firmly believe that adding salt as you cook will toughen the beans, while many will argue that the beans are absorbing liquid and that liquid should be flavoured. I sort of fall in the middle and let them cook about halfway before adding a few large pinches of salt and a few cracks of black pepper. I'm not sure who is correct really, I'll let you explore that for yourself.
I have seen recipes claiming that these will cook in an hour. I don't understand this. I leave them to simmer while I'm busy through the day and I find it takes about 3 hours to have them where I want them.
In a separate pan that is large enough to hold the whole dish later (you will need high sides, a sauce pan works well), heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add all the leeks and a good pinch of salt. Cover with a lid for a few minutes to create some steam and start the cooking. Remove the lid and cook for about 20 minutes until the leeks are very soft. Add the white wine to deglaze. Once the liquid is reduced, set aside and wait for the beans to finish. Once the beans are finished, add them and their liquid to the pan. Stir everything together and simmer over low-medium heat for about 20 minutes. You want the flavours to come together.
Taste for seasoning, then serve with crusty bread, dollops of goat cheese, and a drizzle of fresh olive oil.