Having already discussed the many reasons to cook your own dried beans (they’re tasty, healthy, and inexpensive) and how easy it is, I won’t go into that again here. What I will say is this: although you can further embellish these beans or use them in other recipes, these basic white beans are so good that I also like to just serve them with a spoon. They are gently aromatic, tender, wholesome, and delicious.
You can cook any white beans following this recipe. Cannellini beans, flageolets, Great Northerns, navy beans, even chickpeas. Larger beans will take longer to cook, that’s all.How to Cook White Beans: Soak beans overnight covered in several inches of water, or quick-soak them (bring beans and 3-4 times their volume of water to a boil for a full minute, then cover and remove from heat for at least an hour). Or you can skip the soaking stage altogether (it will just take longer for your beans to cook). Drain the beans if you soaked them.
In a heavy pot, cover beans with a few inches of fresh water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add aromatics: onions, garlic, herbs. I follow Deborah Madison’s advice from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, of course: per cup of white beans, add 1 small quartered onion, 2 bay leaves, several sprigs of parsley, a big sliced clove of garlic, a tsp. of olive oil. You could use any or all of these, plus infinite variations depending on the fresh and dried herbs you have at your fingertips. Simmer, partially or fully covered, until the beans begin to soften (probably 30-60 minutes if you have soaked them), then add 1 1/2 tsp. salt per cup of beans that you started with. Continue cooking until fully tender and let cool in the bean broth. Remove onion, bay leaves and parsley stems before serving.
If you drain the beans to use in a recipe, please promise me that you’ll use the bean cooking liquid to replace part of the broth in the next bean soup or minestrone you make. It’s too tasty to throw away, and full of beany nutrients.
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