Quiet hours

The best part about Saturday morning, at least for me, is being able to fully enjoy my two cups of coffee. I brew it strong -- a symptom of living in metropolis? -- sit down on the couch with some breakfast, a blanket and the online edition of The Globe and Mail and drink up. It's marvelous, especially coming off a seventeen-hour work day. Between visits to the library to pick up and return books, hunting around in Leslieville for a dining table (it's being delivered on Monday), meetings, phone calls, more meetings, watching movies -- The Social Network and Blue Valentine respectively, reading (Molly Stevens, where have you been all my life?), discovering the art of braising (see Molly Stevens), hitting the gym, serving and other miscellaneous tasks, come Saturday I'm plenty grateful for the few quiet hours I have all to myself. Yes, there's cleaning and food prep and grocery shopping to get to, but that time in the morning -- those few quiet hours -- are perfect.

This morning I'm particularly drained. But I'm spending time with a girlfriend of mine tonight and working all day tomorrow and it's the Oscars (!) -- a cocktail or two is a prerequisite for viewing, non? I'll pull it together in time. In the meantime, I want to give you this. It's a recipe by Amanda Hesser, included in Cooking for Mr. Latte. I loved it because it's one of those things that can easily take centre stage at the table, feeding both vegetarians and omnivores alike. And while Amanda calls for freshly shelled beans, I used canned to simply the steps and it worked just fine. Of course, dried beans are more delicious (and nutritious) and my preference, but I ran out of time (shocking.) Growing up, baked beans meant navy beans smothered in tomato sauce, possibly spiked with molasses. I used to be under the impression that my grandmother actually made beans from scratch (that I'm sorry to say I never cared for much), but it turns out her version of "homemade beans" is a giant can she tosses with canned pineapple and whatever else she happens to have on hand.

This Mediterranean-style baked bean dish is lovely. Amanda's recipe calls for 1/4lb of pancetta, but I omitted it. This dish is simple and fool-proof. Myself, I took it for lunch all week. If you're uncomfortable with cooking, mix two cans of beans with your favourite tomato sauce, slide the mixture into an ovenproof baking dish (such as Pyrex or Anchor) and top with half a cup of bread crumbs. Cook uncovered for about an hour and a half, until the bread crumbs are toasted and the beans are creamy. If you'd like to try making your own sauce, see below.

Romano Bean Gratin

Adapted from Amanda Hesser

Serves 4 meal-size portions or 6-8 side portions

There's a lot of room for variation on this. If you don't care for rosemary, try oregano. I imagine this would be nice with black olives and feta cheese, or with fresh basil in place of the thyme. If you'd like to make this dish omnivorous, try adding cooked ground turkey or chicken. I think it might even be nice with some goat's cheese and a heartier fish.

2 cans Romano beans, also called Cranberry or Bortolotti beans (or use alternative such as white navy or cannellini beans), about 3 cups cooked
Sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 garlic cloves, smashed with the back of the knife and minced
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary or 1/2 tsp, dried
1/2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
28oz diced tomatoes and juice
1/2-1/3 cup toasted bread crumbs (I made my own using a loaf of homemade brown rice bread)

Preheat oven to 300F.

Start on the tomato sauce. Heat oil over medium heat and add onions, cooking until they tenderize and turn translucent. Toss in garlic, rosemary, thyme and red pepper. Cook for a couple of minutes until fragrant and add tomatoes. Simmer for about twenty minutes until the flavours meld, but not until the sauce becomes pasty and thick. Remember that the sauce will continue to cook in the oven. Season generously with sea salt and pepper, and fold in the (rinsed and drained!) Romano beans (or whatever you are using.)

Coat a small casserole or gratin dish with olive oil and add the mixture. Top with 1/2 cup to 1/3 cup bread crumbs. Bake, uncovered, for seventy-five to ninety minutes, checking occasionally to ensure there is enough liquid in the dish. If not, add a little water or chicken stock as necessary. The length of time this recipe requires depends on the initial tenderness of the beans. If you're using beans cooked from dry, you may need to bake for a full two hours. Mine were fairly tender and it took about ninety minutes. The lovely thing about this is that it's difficult to overcook because you are baking at such a low temperature. Serve garnished with a bit of Parmigiano-Reggiano if desired.


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