Friday 16 May 2014

Braised Leeks and White Beans

This seems more of a dish you might eat in early winter, but I still had one last batch of borlotti beans in the freezer from last year's harvest that I wanted to use.  I didn't have enough though so I also added in some cannellini beans.  Canned beans are fine, but then you really don't need the stock - it is used here to cook the dried beans after they've been soaked.

As with most braising recipes, this can take up to 2 hours, but well worth the wait.

1 1/2 cups dried borlotti / cannellini beans (soaked overnight)
2 leeks, sliced and soaked
2 pieces bacon, diced
3/4 cup diced celery
4 cloves garlic, diced
Fresh thyme
3-4 cups stock, vegetable or organic chicken
Aged cheddar or other cheese
S&P (lots of pepper!)

Place the beans in a bowl of water the evening before you cook this dish.  Rinse in the morning and cover with water again.  Rinse and drain again just before use.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Leeks tend to be grown in sandy soil and can have gritty bits in between the leaves so they need a good washing.  This is easy when sliced as in this recipe.  Put the sliced leeks into a bowl of water and swish around. Then let them sit for a few minutes for any dirt or sand to sink to the bottom of a bowl.  Scoop out the leeks without disturbing the bottom.

Saute the diced bacon in a dutch oven or large pan but don't let it get crisp.  Add the celery and garlic.  Cook just a minute or two then add the leeks.  Cook until softened which should only take a few minutes.

Add the drained beans, 5-6 fresh sprigs of thyme, salt and pepper and about 2 1/2 cups of the stock.  Keep the rest of the stock available to add as needed if the dish starts to dry out.

If you started with a non-ovenproof pan, just pour the mixture at this point into a casserole dish with a lid or cover with tinfoil.  Place the casserole dish or dutch oven in the preheated oven.  Cook about a half hour at 350 F then reduce to 300.  Take a quick look and add more stock if needed.  If there is too much liquid, remove the lid and let some of it cook away.  Continue cooking (and checking for liquid) after about 60 more minutes or until beans are tender. 

Check your seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed (this dish is great with lots of pepper if you like that kind of thing).  Cover top of casserole with grated aged cheddar or just about any cheddar or mild cheese will be fine (a good mozzarella would be great!).  Turn on broiler and broil until cheese is melted and browned.

Remove from oven and let sit at least 10 minutes before serving.  This will allow the beans to continue absorbing some liquid and it will still be plenty hot after that time!

Garnish with lots of parsley.

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