Greens, Beans and Broth
I tried hard to think of a good broth-pun for the title of this post (and as you can see I failed). There were some convoluted and limp 'wrath' rhymes which didn't make the cut. Nevertheless, despite a distinctly unpromising title here is a deliciously promising recipe.
A tragically late convert, I love broth. Along with an obsessive floor-sweeping habit and a new appreciation of facial hair Italy has given me that. Broth wasn't really part of my childhood, we were more of a gravy family, and a thick gravy at that. Thin gravy was a heinous crime committed by other people, never by us. My mum's gravy was so thick you could practically stand a spoon in it. Her devotion to putting large quantities of flour in things to 'give them body' is deep-rooted. Soups were pureed and always thickened with double cream or creme fraiche (mostly by my Granny who had an unshakable addiction to dairy products).
Broth is big in Italy. Beans in broth, vegetables in broth, meat in broth, pasta in broth. You name it, they broth it.
I have written about meat in broth elsewhere: it is beans in broth that are my concern here. When beans are cooked in an aromatic liquid the resulting broth ends up being much more delicious than the beans themselves. The beans become soft and giving and wonderful yes, but the creamy broth (hold it Granny, no actual cream necessary) that you end up with is more glorious than any of the initial objects that inspired it. It's a true Natural Wonder. I sometimes cook beans just so I can eat big bowls of the broth, and leave behind the beans to eat on toast with extra oil and shavings of cheese.
The principles of creating a good, rich, bean broth are very simple. You start with a good base; made up of sauteed vegetables of your choice (onions, garlic, celery, carrots, leeks and the like) and then add your pulses and water and cook low-and-slow until the beans are completely soft and the broth is flavourful.
In the following recipe I matched the creamy sweetness of Cannellini with the bitterness of Escarole, one of my favourite winter greens, which wilts easily into the broth and provides a slurping-sliminess in the best possible way (sliminess CAN be a good thing, trust me). I melted a few anchovies into the base too, for an extra savoury depth to offset the beans. Truly the perfect mid-November mouthful.
250g dried cannellini (soaked in lots of cold water overnight)
1 onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
3 sundried tomatoes
1 sprig of rosemary
1 bay leaf
pinch of dried chilli flakes or 1 dried chilli
enough water/stock to come to 4 inches above the level of the beans
Half a head of escarole, washed and roughly chopped.
In a deep saucepan saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the anchovies, the sun-dried tomatoes and the herbs and continue to cook for a few minutes.
Add the beans (drained) and fresh water to come to 4 inches above the beans. If you have stock (lucky!) then use this instead.
Cook, covered, on a low heat for 90 mins to 2 hours, until the beans are tender. Add the escarole and cook for ten minutes more. Season with salt, a good glug of your poky-est olive oil, and some chilli flakes. Serve, with grated parmesan on top.