As I planted the rest of last year’s container tulips up at the allotment at the weekend, the remains of this year’s bean plants on their now perilously leaning wigwams reproached me for not harvesting the beans inside those blackened pods – if only to save for next year, as I doubt there will be enough to make a meal. Back in September, despite picking the French beans every other day, the harvest was so prolific that I inevitably managed to miss some and ended up with beans that were too big to eat as French beans, pods and all. Cue an experiment: I’d always wondered what it would be like to use the actual fresh beans inside the pods, rather than drying them for winter use. They were actually very good: cooked in boiling water for 20-30 minutes with garlic, parsley stalks and a bay leaf until tender, then added to a favourite bean casserole. I will get around to harvesting what’s left and see if I can salvage any…
I’ve been meaning to share some of my favourite bean casseroles here for a while: they were all the rage back in the brown food days of the 1970s/early 80s, when vegetarian/wholefoods first came to prominence. I still tend to use dried beans, soaking overnight and pre-cooking, but you can equally well use canned, which are widely available these days. The only problem with cans is that you miss out on the delicious bean cooking liquor, which I often use as a stock in the finished dish. Vegetable stock can be used instead, of course, but won’t give quite the same depth of flavour or unctuousness as a good bean stock.
One of my favourites is this Beany Cheese Crunch, adapted from a Sainsbury’s wholefood recipe book from the 80s. It does have added bacon for a savoury note, but just leave it out if you want to go fully vegetarian – you could add chestnuts or mushrooms instead. You can also add or substitute chorizo if you feel so inclined. For a vegan alternative, omit the cheese from the topping, or use a vegan substitute. If you have fresh shelled beans, omit the soaking and pre-cooking phase for these and add them before transferring to the oven. You can use any combination of beans, depending what you have – and you can also use canned, again omitting the soaking and pre-cooking steps, but remember to adjust the amounts as dried beans soak up water and become heavier as they cook. I tend to assume you need double the weight of canned beans to dried.
Beany Cheese Crunch – serves 4-6
75g kidney beans (or black beans)
75g black-eyed beans (or haricot beans – I’m finding it hard to get the dried black-eyed beans at the moment for some reason)
75g butter beans
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, roughly chopped
2-3 sticks celery, chopped
50g bacon, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 leeks, sliced (optional)
1 red chilli, finely chopped (seeds in or out depending on your heat capacity!)
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
300-450ml vegetable stock (or reserve bean cooking liquor)
handful of herbs of your choice (thyme, rosemary, parsley or basil – all of these work well, in isolation or together)
75g wholemeal breadcrumbs
125g mature Cheddar, grated
1 tbsp parsley (optional)
Soak the beans in a pan of cold water overnight. The next morning, drain, then cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil and cook on a high heat without a lid for 10 minutes. You might want to open the windows and shut the doors to the rest of the house at this point as cooking beans have a particularly pungent aroma! Then lower the heat, cover and cook for 30-45 mins or until tender – test with a fork. The actual cooking time depends on the age of the beans, so in some cases you might need to extend this to an hour. Top up the water from the (hot) kettle if necessary. When tender, drain, reserving the cooking liquor in a jug for later.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pan or ovenproof casserole – I use my trusty Le Creuset so it can go straight in the oven afterwards. Add the chopped onion, celery, garlic and bacon, and cook until starting to soften and turn golden. Add the chopped carrots, red pepper, chilli and leeks and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes. Then add the tinned tomatoes with their juice, 300ml of the reserved stock (save the rest in case you need it) and season. Stir well and bring to the boil. Adjust the liquid content if you feel it might need more: much depends whether you’ve added extra veg! Cook on the hob for 10 minutes or so, then transfer to the oven pre-heated to 160°C (fan) or Gas 4 for 45 minutes.
Turn the heat up to 200°C towards the end, then sprinkle on the mixed breadcrumbs, grated cheese and parsley and return to the oven for the last 15 minutes.
Serve piping hot with a green salad – so tasty! This also freezes perfectly, so well worth making the full quantity even if you’re only cooking for one or two. You can also ring the changes with the vegetables – anything goes, really. Fennel works particularly well, as do other root vegetables. It’s a very flexible dish.
Another of my favourite bean dishes is this Aduki Bean & Leek Casserole with herby dumplings. As with many of my vegetarian recipes, this came originally from my friend Bridget, a home economics teacher. Still as delicious today as when I first cooked it in the 80s! The dumplings are divinely light too – not at all the stodgy accompaniment you might imagine.
Aduki Bean & Leek Casserole with Herby Dumplings – serves 4-6
150g aduki beans, soaked overnight (or use 2 cans)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
450g leeks, washed, trimmed and sliced into rings (4 or so leeks)
3 large carrots, diced
250-350g mushrooms, quartered
1 red pepper, diced (optional)
1 red chilli, finely chopped (and deseeded if you don’t like it too hot)
1.5 tbsp paprika
3 tbsp wholemeal flour
450 ml vegetable stock (or use reserved bean cooking liquor, or a mixture of the two)
1 vegetable stock cube or 1 tsp bouillon powder
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp tomato purée
1 can chopped tomatoes
chopped parsley to garnish
150g wholemeal self-raising flour (or add 1 tsp baking powder to plain flour or spelt)
75g Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp chopped parsley
75 ml milk (plus extra if needed)
Drain the soaked beans and cover with fresh cold water. Bring back to the boil and cook until tender – 45 mins to 1 hour. Drain, reserving the cooking liquor for stock as above.
Heat the oil in a large casserole and gently cook the chopped onion for 10 minutes or so until softened. Then add the garlic, leeks, carrots, chilli, red pepper, (if using) and mushrooms. Cook for a further 5 minutes or so, then stir in the paprika and flour. Add the stock cube (or bouillon powder), stock, soy sauce, tinned tomatoes, tomato purée and season to taste. Stir in the drained beans and mix well. Bring to the boil and allow to cook on the hob for 10 minutes or so before covering and transferring to the oven, pre-heated to 160°C fan or Gas 4. Cook for 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the dumplings: put the flour and salt in a bowl, then rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the finely chopped parsley and grated cheese. Add the milk gradually until you have a firm dough – you may not need it all, or you might need a drop more, depending on your flour. Divide into 12 round or oval dumplings.
After 40 minutes, take the casserole out of the oven, gently arrange the dumplings around the edge and return to the oven with the lid on. Cook for a further 20-25 minutes or until the dumplings have puffed up and cooked through. They should be firm to the touch. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with a green salad. Again, this freezes beautifully, although without the dumplings – I must admit there are never any left!