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Stovetop baked beans

Posted Jun 23 2011 12:00am
All the good stuff is starting to come into the farmer’s markets now: lettuce, peas, kale, zucchini, beets, and those incredible STRAWBERRIES, so transcendentally delicious you could eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (which I have, in fact, been doing).

But up until a couple of weeks ago, the selection of local food round these parts was still pretty spare. Much of the real estate at my favorite farm stand was occupied by bins of dried beans. The beans were pretty to look at, and they had cool names like Jacob’s Cattle beans and China Sulfur beans, but I wasn’t inspired to buy any. When I need beans, I generally open a can.

Then, the other day, I spied a basket of Swedish Brown beans, a small bean with a nice warm caramel color. It just so happens I have a recipe for Swedish Brown beans. It originally came from Deborah Madison’s wonderful cookbook , but over the years I’ve modified it to the point where it tastes a lot like Boston baked beans, only simmered on the stovetop instead.

Baked beans are a must-have at summer picnics and barbecues, but to me, the idea of baking something in the oven for three or four hours, the way most traditional recipes specify, doesn’t really appeal this time of year. And canned baked beans -- ugh. Squishy, boring, and too, too sweet.

So here’s my version of Boston baked beans cooked entirely on the stovetop. Since you start with dried beans, it’s not an instant-gratification kind of dish, but the texture is so much better than anything you could get from a can that it’s totally worth it. Plus, you don’t have to stand over it at all; just throw the ingredients in a pot and go off and do your own thing.

Stovetop Baked Beans

2 cups Swedish brown beans, or use dry navy beans or pinto beans (or any kind you like, really)
1 small onion, finely diced
1/4 lb. humanely raised lean bacon, finely diced (optional)
3 Tb. brown sugar
2 Tb. blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 to 1 1/2 tsp. salt (use the lesser amount if including bacon; more if not)

The night before you plan on making this, rinse the beans, cover with water by a couple of inches, and let them soak anywhere from 12 to 24 hours.

Drain beans, place in stockpot, and add 6 cups of fresh water. Bring to a boil, then turn down, cover, and simmer for one hour.

Cook the diced bacon in a separate frying pan until nearly crisp, then add the diced onion and saute with the bacon until it begins to brown. (If you're not using the bacon, cook the onion in a tablespoon of olive oil.)

Add onion mixture, brown sugar, molasses, and vinegar to the beans in the pot, withholding the salt. Continue simmering for another two hours or so, stirring every so often, until most of the liquid is absorbed and sauce is nice and thick. If, after two hours, it’s still too watery, remove the lid and turn up the heat for a few minutes to reduce and thicken the liquid.

Add salt to taste. The salt content in bacon varies a lot, so start with the lesser amount and add more as necessary.

Serves six.
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