Monday, January 24, 2011

Pasta e Fagioli, or: I Succesfully Rehydrate Dried Beans For the First Time, Ever

Up until last night, I've always used canned beans in recipes. I wish I could say it’s because they taste better. Or they’re cheaper. Or they come in prettier colors and sing me neat Pink Floyd songs as I go to sleep at night.

Alas, that ain’t the truth. The truth is more like this: I have never been able to rehydrate dried beans. Ever. Like, in recorded history. Even before I was born, I couldn’t do it. No matter how long I soaked, no matter how many hours I boiled, my dried legumes always stayed dried. Like tiny, grainy BB gun pellets.

Then, I stumbled over The Kitchn's One-Pot Pasta e Fagioli, which uses caramelized onions and a smattering of bacon to flavor a rich broth, in which dried cannellini beans, pasta, and spinach are then cooked to a soft, hearty stew. (Wow, that was a long sentence. Also, A Smattering of Bacon is potentially great title for your next novel about Existentialism.)

And just like that, I have been joined the ranks of the People Who Are Capable of Rehyrdating Beans, or PWACORB. Really, it's kind of a revelation, and not just because dried cannellinis are much creamier than canned. They're also way, way less expensive, use significantly less packaging, and are a comparative breeze to carry. Which? Is important when you're training for the Olympics. (Note: I am not training for the Olympics.)

Back to that recipe, though: I liked it, and it's a wonderful way to incorporate bacon into your diet in a healthy way. However, it did turn kind of mushy. Not unacceptably so. Just more than I would have liked. To remedy this, next time I will:

1) Try using a thicker pasta. I added elbow macaroni, and it softened pretty quickly. A whole-wheat pasta or sturdier mezze penne or orrechiette would have probably held up better.

2) Try adding the pasta last. That way, it won't have so much time to absorb extra water.

Besides that minor issue, we ate it, and have more than enough to last for a week o' office lunches. Not to mention, now I will rehydrate beans with impunity. IMPUNITY, I SAY!


If this looks tasty, you’ll surely enjoy:

One-Pot Pasta e Fagioli
Serves 8 to 10
Adapted from The Kitchn.

1 pound dried cannellini beans
5 strips bacon, chopped
2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin
3 medium celery stalks, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (15-ounce) can chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 pound small pasta (whole-wheat for extra healthiness)
5 thyme sprigs
3 teaspoons salt
10 ounces frozen spinach (fresh would also work)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

1) In a large mixing bowl, add beans and enough water to cover by an inch or two. Let sit overnight.

2) In a large pot or Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until a little crispy. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon or a spider. Set aside. Get rid of all bacon fat in pot, except for one tablespoon. Add onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized. (This will take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, depending on how large you slice the onions and a few other factors.)

3) Preheat oven to 325 °F.

4) Add celery to onion mixture. Sauté 3 minutes. Add garlic. Sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Scoop half of onion mixture into a bowl and set aside with bacon.

5) Deglaze pot with 1 cup chicken broth, making sure you scrape up all the tasty onion bits stuck to the bottom.

6) Drain beans. Add to pot along with bay leaf, remaining chicken broth, and “enough water to cover the beans and onions by 1 inch.” Cover. Stick in oven and braise for 1 hour. If the beans aren’t soft after 1 hour, cook an additional 15 to 20 minutes.

7) Remove pot from oven. Place on burner and turn it up to medium-high heat. Add reserved bacon, reserved onion mixture, thyme, remaining salt, and pasta. Cook until pasta is almost done. Stir occasionally, and don’t be afraid to add more water if things are getting a little dry.

8) Add block of frozen spinach. Cook, stirring often, until spinach is totally defrosted and spread out in stew. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with parmesan cheese.

OTHER SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Try using a thicker, smaller pasta, or perhaps a whole-wheat pasta. If you’d like it to have more of a chew, add it in with the spinach and cook until al dente. The pasta will soften significantly and absorb water as the stew sits, so don't fear adding more H2O as time goes on.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price Per Serving
Nine servings: 312 calories, 3.6 g fat, 6.3 g fiber, 17.8 g protein, $0.68

NOTE: Calculations are for Goya cannellini beans, also known as white kidney beans or alubias.

1 pound dried cannellini beans: 1500 calories, 10 g fat, 40 g fiber, 100 g protein, $1.59
5 strips bacon, chopped: 230 calories, 17.8 g fat, 0 g fiber, 15.7 g protein, $0.83
2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin: 92 calories, 0.2 g fat, 3.1 g fiber, 2 g protein, $0.50
3 medium celery stalks, diced: 17 calories, 0.2 g fat, 1.9 g fiber, 0.8 g protein, $0.30
4 garlic cloves, minced: 17 calories, 0.1 g fat, 0.2 g fiber, 0.7 g protein, $0.32
1 (15-ounce) can chicken broth: 30 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, 5.8 g fiber, $0.66
1 bay leaf: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.02
1/2 pound small pasta: 840 calories, 4 g fat, 8 g fiber, 28 g protein, $0.33
5 thyme sprigs: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.50
3 teaspoons salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.02
10 ounces frozen spinach: 103 calories, 0 g fat, 3.4 g fiber, 6.8 g protein, $1.00
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.02
TOTAL: 2812 calories, 32.3 g fat, 56.6 g fiber, 159.8 g protein, $6.09
PER SERVING (TOTAL/9): 312 calories, 3.6 g fat, 6.3 g fiber, 17.8 g protein, $0.68

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Diane said...

Even better - use a pressure cooker to cook them. Super fast and results in soft beans every time. Soak garbanzos overnight, drain & throw in pressure cooker with fresh water, let come to pressure, cook 20 to 22 minutes. Let cool. Voila - beans. Energy-efficient too.

It does take a wee bit of cailbration the first time or two to figure out how long to cook them. The first time I made black-eyed peas I cooked them too long and ended up with almost bean puree.

As you found, beans from dried beans are so much tastier. And soooooooooooo much cheaper.

Laura said...

I too have never been able to reconstitute my dried beans without leaving some unwanted crunch in them - I'll have to give this recipe a try. However, any tips for just rehydrating dried beans on their own (and not in the context of this recipe)? Given that I live in a tiny Manhattan, adding another gadget like a pressure cooker isn't really feasible.

DFigs said...

I've only recently gotten good at hydrating beans. (Rehydrating? Were they ever hydrated? I honestly don't know).

Anyway, if you have a slow cooker, you don't even need to soak them over night - you can just stick them in there on high for a few hours. Apparently the second you add an acid to the beans, it stops them from softening. Just some tips!

Debbie Koenig said...

I stopped soaking my beans after I read this post:

It totally works! So.freaking.easy.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the beans!

I have tried the slow cooker and over cooked. I have an irrational fear of pressure cookers. But I am stubborn and I have found that cooking the beans, then draining, cooling, freezing them in one can size baggies (about 2 cups) seems to replicate canned texture the closest.

So when I feel like simmering something (my pregnancy thing: uncontrollable urges to cook. beats morning sickness that's for sure) I throw a bag of beans on. I always have a variety frozen ready to go.

Meister @ The Nervous Cook said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of beans! Now you can explore all kinds of delicious beany adventures: has some incredible heirloom varieties. Their black beans are so creamy and perfect!

Marie said...

I soak them overnight, then put them in the crockpot for about 4 hours on low. Works every time. Usually make a big batch and freeze most of it.

cardamomandcastiron said...

I always put dried (rinsed) beans in my crock pot on low overnight (or all day, depending on when I want to cook them). Works perfectly every time. Then I portion them out in 1 1/2 cup amounts so I can have approximately 1 can's worth for recipes.

smilinggreenmom said...

Oh I do that too with my beans in the crock pot! That's about the only way I have been able to! This looks yummy - must use Kamut Wheat pasta though - love the extra vitamins and minerals and it always cooks up so tasty for me :) Thanks for sharing it!!

Michelle said...

I too fear the soaking! I am going to try it today, because it's a snow day.

Emily @ Relishments said...

I had a really hard time re-hydrating beans well until I read this:

I use this method (75-ish minutes in a covered dutch oven with water in a 325 degree oven) every time I make beans and it hasn't failed me yet