Although we certainly are carnivores in my family, I love to eat meatless meals and try to eat about three dinners a week without any meat. For those interested in the health and environmental benefits of eating less meat, you can read books by Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan, who both still enjoy an occasional steak. On our weekly pizza night, I always fix a vegetarian pizza for myself (with maybe some good anchovies). I try to fix at least one or two seafood/fish dinners a week and I love to make meatless pasta dishes. But one of the best meals you can fix for dinner involves that super food: beans. It's a high quality protein that is very cheap with no animal fat and lots of fiber. I get my beans these days mostly from Rancho Gordo, that wonderful farm out in Napa Valley run by Steve Sando. He grows the most high quality, fresh beans you will ever taste. You certainly can used canned beans and they are fine, but try buying some great quality dried beans sometime. They are still so much cheaper than buying meat. He has some wonderful varieties that you will never find in the grocery store. For this recipe, I used cellini. You really can use any bean you like.
A lot of people are confused about how to cook dried beans and are scared to try. It's so easy. You just soak and simmer. Sometimes I just throw the beans in a pot and cover with cold water to soak before I go to bed. If I don't do that, I just go ahead and throw them in some water in the morning and let them soak all day. There is no exact science to it. After they soak you just need to give yourself a couple of hours to cook them, depending on what kind of bean you have and how long they have soaked. I just put mine on to simmer with some aromatics and start tasting them after an hour and keep tasting them until they are the texture I like. That's it.
The rule of thumb in cooking beans is to not add salt until the last 15 or 20 minutes of cooking because it is believed that the salt makes them tougher. I always did this until earlier this year, when I read an article in Gourmet magazine's April issue about cooking beans. They tested this myth and cooked several batches of beans. They found out that the beans which they salted before cooking ended up slightly more tender than those cooked with no salt, or had the salt added at the end of cooking. Also, the beans cooked slightly faster and the tasters felt the salted beans had more flavor. Myth buster! So now I'm putting the salt right in the pot to cook along with the beans.
- 3/4 cup dried cellini, cannellini or white navy beans, soaked for several hours or overnight (or 1 can of beans, drained)
- 1 bay leaf
- several peppercorns
- 1 clove garlic
- 4 large tomatoes
- 1/2 red onion, sliced as thin as you can
- 2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
- 12 ounce can tuna, packed in water, drained
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt and pepper
In a bowl, stir together the beans, tuna fish, onion, parsley and the remainder of the olive oil. Generously season with salt to taste and add pepper to taste. Spoon the mixture into the tomatoes and serve.
For another bean recipe, try Tuscan Bean Soup: