I’m a reductionist. I like to cook liquids down to an almost syrupy consistency, which concentrates their flavor and sometimes improves their mouth feel. For example, when I’m dousing pasta with cream, I’ll boil the cream to about one-quarter or one-third of its original volume. Instant sauce. Or, as I did in the fall, I’ll boil apple cider to a syrup and use it to glaze root vegetables or meat. Transformative. So when Melissa Clark of the Dining Section (so she starts every video) of the New York Times offered the addition of reduced red wine to a pot of beans cooked with aromatics, I was in.
Around here, we are always full of beans. Ha. Colloquially for sure but also literally, since we eat a lot of them for their nutritional wallop. I’m speaking of dried beans with exotic names and myriad colors. The kingmaker in the world of beans is Rancho Gordo, from northern California. We’re lucky to be able to buy them locally now. Before that, I would beg them from people who frequent the San Francisco farmer’s market or order them online. However, a couple of years ago, during my research on local organic food, I came across Cayuga Organics from the Finger Lakes district of New York. We’ve grown some ourselves but aren’t at production capacity yet (still saving seeds), so I was pleased to find great regional organic beans.
This past weekend, instead of cooking my usual pot of beans or chickpeas to use throughout the week, I made Melissa’s bean stew. Bingo! The pinto beans held their shape beautifully when cooked and had a very creamy interior. I attribute this to both the freshness of the beans and the cooking method, which involved an overnight soak and a very slow simmer in salted water with rendered smoky bacon, onion, garlic, celery and carrots, plus a sprig of rosemary. The beans absorbed every drop of flavor and were so delicious that I hesitated adding the reduced wine. But after I did and let the beans simmer for a bit, the wine turned the whole dish magical. I wish I hadn’t halved the recipe. It’s a winner. Make it.
For me, other than the celery, this was a completely local meal, and all organic. Not bad for the waning dark days. I have written the recipe the way I made it, which included halving it (to serve 4) and also reducing the amount of bacon.
Pinto Beans with Red Wine and Smoky Bacon adapted from Melissa Clark, NYT
½ lb dried pinto beans, preferably organic
2-3 oz thick cut smoky bacon, diced
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large sprig rosemary
1½ tsp salt
3½-4 c water
1 c dry red wine
Soak the beans overnight in water to cover. Drain when you’re ready to make the soup.
In a large pot over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until it renders it fat and turns golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in onion, celery, carrot, garlic and rosemary. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 5-7 minutes.
Add the drained beans and salt to the pot and add enough water just to cover the beans (I used 3½ cups). Bring the liquid just to the boiling point, reduce heat and simmer the beans until tender, 45-60 minutes. Use a metal disk (flame tamer) under the pot to keep the liquid at a very low simmer.
Meanwhile, in a small pot over medium heat, simmer the wine until it reduces to about 1/3 cup, about 20-30 minutes.
When the beans are fully cooked, remove the rosemary branches (the leaves will have fallen into the beans) and add the wine. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook at least 10 minutes to meld the flavors. If you make this in advance and let it sit for an hour or so, the flavors will fully develop.