Wednesday, 15 May 2013
In my professional life, I spend a lot of time waiting. For scripts to be read, decisions to be made, productions to be finished... It drives me crazy. I've never done one of those personality tests but I'm sure if I did I'd be classified as some manic crosser-off of tasks on a list, deadline-meeting type, and completely unsuited to my chosen career, which requires a lot of patience. Some things though, I don't mind waiting for.
Let me start by saying I'm a fan of baked beans. They're not for everyone I know that. There's a low-rent kind of quality to them, that's really (let's be frank here) just all about the can. And the sweet, gloopy, red sludge of sauce that binds together those mushy white beans. I'm sure if you bothered to read the nutritional information on the label you'd see they're full of sugar and salt and all manner of preservatives and things that are bad for you. But I love them anyway. There's nothing more comforting on a cold day than baked beans on toast. It's breakfast, it's lunch, sometimes it's even dinner. And a satisfying one at that. Particularly if that toast is not just toast but grilled cheese, or you add an egg (poached, fried, whatever you like) on top. So while I'm perfectly content with the instant gratification of opening a can, this recipe, which promised something similar in four hours (and that's just the cooking time!) intrigued me. I had a hunch that they were going to be worth it. And boy was I right.
Smoky and sweet, with the subtle tang of vinegar, these are the kind of beans that make you want to be a cowboy, or at least eat like one (alas my allergy to horses prevents me from considering this as an alternative line of work). But the taste is only the beginning of what's so good about them. The smell - as they cook slowly in the oven, infusing your kitchen with the heady aroma of bacon and onion, spices and garlic - is the very definition of warm and cosy. Waiting was never more wonderful.
Adapted from a recipe by Frank Camorra, as published in the Sydney Morning Herald
This makes a lot of beans. By all means eat them every day for a week if you like (or feed a crowd), but they also freeze well, so don't feel you have to (share). You can absolutely use whatever sort of paprika you happen to have in the cupboard, but the smoked variety imparts a lovely campfire quality.
375g dried navy (or cannellini) beans, soaked overnight
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 thick rashers streaky bacon, cut into 1cm strips
2 red capsicum (peppers), cut into 2cm squares
400g can tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
3 tablespoons maple syrup (or treacle, golden syrup or honey)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and black pepper
Preheat oven to 160 deg C.
Rinse beans, then cover with cold water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, strain, and rinse with cold water.
Heat oil in a large overproof casserole dish and sauté onion, garlic, carrot and bacon for 5 minutes. When onion softens and bacon sizzles, add capsicum. Purée tomatoes and juice in a food processor and add to casserole dish with beans and remaining ingredients, except syrup and vingear. Mix well. Add cold water to cover beans by 4cm. Put casserole dish, tightly sealed, in oven and bake for at least 4 hours. Stir well after 2 hours and check beans are still quite moist (add a little water if too dry and reduce oven temperature).
After 4 hours, stir in syrup, vinegar, salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. The beans should be in a rich sauce. If too thick, add a little extra water; if too runny and the beans are tender, increase oven temperature and continue to cook.