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Few foods can claim truer American roots than the beautiful, bountiful bean. The wild ancestor of the common bean was domesticated both in Mexico and in the Peruvian Andes many thousands of years ago. The species Phaseolus Vulgaris spread its creeping tendrils throughout the Americas where early cultures cultivated it into the varieties that comprise the bulk of the great canon of today’s heirloom beans. From mashable Mayacobas to Midnight Blacks, winking Yellow Eyes to creamy Cranberry Beans, all are variations of P. Vulgaris. What could be more American than this boisterous bunch of industrious beans traveling millennia, sustaining its civilizations? When hungry colonists arrived on American soil they, too, recognized what a nutrition packed boon the heirloom bean was and jumped on the bandwagon. The boats were going both ways so beans hopped aboard and became one of the first American foods to gain wide acceptance in other parts of the world. Today we think of Flageolet and Tarbais as uniquely French and can’t imagine Italian cuisine without the belissimo Borlotti, but those beans are just American ex-pats in disguise. This summer there will be burgers and barbecue aplenty but don’t forget to make room at your feast for the real American hero, the bean.
These beans, simmered with sweet and hot peppers, are a perfect side for grilled and smoked meats. We love to make this dish with the tiny Pinquito beans available from our friends at Rancho Gordo but you can also substitute good quality Pinto Beans, Yellow Eye or other favorite heirloom beans if Pinquitos prove to be elusive.
Serves eight as a side
6-8 cups of cooked Santa Maria Pinquito or Other Favorite Heirloom Beans
1 cup small diced bacon
1 diced white onion
1 diced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1-2 dried chile de arbol
1 cup tomato puree
1 ½ cups pork broth
1 sprig of fresh oregano
1 sprig of fresh epazote (optional)
Slowly render the bacon in a Dutch oven or clay pot over medium heat. When it releases some of its fat and begins to brown, add the onion, pepper, garlic and cayenne. Season lightly and cook until tender. Add the tomato and cook for five minutes, then add the broth and the herbs.
Strain the cooked beans reserving the bean cooking liquid. Add the beans to the pot then add enough of the bean cooking liquid to cover the beans by about 1/2 inch. Bring the pot to a simmer and taste for seasoning. Reduce the heat to low and gently simmer the beans for about forty-five minutes. Alternatively, if the coals are aglow in your grill, the beans can be simmered over indirect heat or where their flavor will benefit from the perfume of the wood smoke.