Gift Guide, Day 7

December 4, 2010

A Wardrobe of Great Beans

Yesterday was all about carnivores. Today we’re taking the other tack, coming up with ways to please a vegetarian.

In my opinion, every vegetarian’s perennial problem is trying to find good beans. This is because most stores keep them forever and sell them stale, so that the beans refuse to get soft, no matter how long you cook them. Even worse, in a world filled with exotic beans, most places offer only pedestrian varieties.

Enter Cesare Casella, the maestro of beans. The chef/owner of Salumeria Rosi loves the gentle little Burrino that tastes like butter, and the giant Fagioli Grossi with their mottled flesh. His beans, imported from Italy, are flavorful, beautiful and plump. My favorites are the Fagioli del Papa, which have marbled purple and beige skins and taste of chestnuts, and the big creamy Fagioli Corona that like to stand in for meat. The restaurant’s website is a great resource for bean-lovers, and a few varieties, packed into pretty jars, make great gifts.

Cesare doesn’t sell black beans, but if that’s all you can get, here’s my favorite black bean chili (this is for you, Jessica.)

Black Bean Chili

Soak 2 pounds of dried black beans overnight.

Toast 2 tablespoons cumin seed, 2 tablespoons paprika, and 2 teaspoons crumbled dried oregano in a dry skillet just until fragrant. Grind the spices into dust with a mortar and pestle. Add 2 dried pasilla chiles (stem and seeds discarded), coarsely chopped.

Saute a couple of diced onions in a bit of oil until golden in a large pot with a teaspoon of salt. Add 10 cloves of garlic, minced and 2 tablespoons of chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo. Stir in spice mixture. Add the drained black beans, a couple of bay leaves and 3 quarts of water. Simmer, covered, until the beans are soft. (This should take about an hour, but if your beans are old it might take considerably longer.)

Add a 28 ounce can of chopped tomatoes. Taste for salt. Cook another 20 minutes or so and serve topped with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese.

This will make 8 to 10 people very happy.

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