French-style baked white beans

December 25, 2009 at 11:36 pm (Beans, French, My brain, unrated)


I’m not a fan of traditional tomato-y, ultra-sweet baked beans.  Instead, I put together a number of different “vegan cassoulet” recipes, and baked my beans with traditional French seasonings:  a base of carrot, celery, and onion, plus garlic, rosemary, thyme, and oregano.  I started out by “quick brining” my beans, as Cook’s Illustrated recommends.

In a 4-5 quart stockpot, combine:

  • 1.5 cups navy beans, rinsed and picked over
  • 9 cups water
  • 1.5 Tbs. kosher salt

Soak at room temperature, 8 to 24 hours, or do a “quick brine”.  Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans and proceed with the recipe as directed.  The beans at this point should be soft enough to eat if you had to, but still crunchy.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a 4-6 quart dutch oven, saute

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil

Add and sauté for about 7 minutes, until the onion is golden:

  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed but left whole

Into the stockpot add:

  • the soaked beans
  • 4 cups liquid (unsalted vegetable stock, or water)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 Tbs. maple syrup
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Stir to mix, and bring beans to a boil.  Immediately cover and place in preheated oven.  Cook for 1 hour, then remove cover and cook for another 30 minutes to 1 hour, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.  The beans should be silky soft, caramelized on top, and most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside for about 15 minutes to cool.  Taste and adjust salt if necessary, then serve.

My notes:

In addition to carrots, onion, and celery, I added 1/2 cup each fennel and parsnips.  I couldn’t taste them in the cooked dish though.  Also, I didn’t have fresh oregano so I added 1/2 tsp. dried oregano.  The final dish came out tasting a little bit musty / funky to me.  That’s a common problem I have when I bake white beans with the seasonings. I’m not sure what does gives it that “old beans” taste.  Maybe the smashed garlic?

There was something about the beans that reminded me a little of French onion soup, so I served the still-soupy beans in ramekins.  Above the beans I put a slice of rye baguette, which I topped with a thin slice of raclette.  I placed the ramekins under the broiler for a few minutes to melt the baguette.  Derek said it was delicious.  He really loved the textural contrasts: soggy/crispy bread, hot stringy cheese, and soupy beans.  He said “you could serve this for company”!    I liked the bread and cheese of course, but the beans just didn’t do it for me.

Also, I think I could have added more maple syrup.  The beans didn’t taste sweet at all.  Also, I added to much water, and didn’t leave the beans in long enough to cook it all away, so the beans and veggies never really got a chance to caramelize under the heat of the oven.

My beans came out okay.  The skins didn’t come off, but the beans weren’t quite as silky and creamy as I would have liked.  Maybe I should have used Cannellini instead of Navy beans.

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