A couple of years ago Boomer and I took a two-day “BBQ Boot Camp” course at the Culinary Institute of America. One of the things we made during production there was baked beans, and it was really the first time I ever dealt with dried beans; they’d always seemed so daunting to me, but I discovered then exactly how easy it is to soak and then cook non-canned beans. Sure, it takes a lot of advance planning, but it’s hardly rocket surgery. The recipe we were assigned was Boston baked beans, and was apparently lifted from the back of a bag of beans from a national brand — our chef instructor chuckled about that when we all raved about what a delicious, delicious recipe it was. As soon as the course was done, Boomer and I went on a feverish hunt to find our own bean crock, so we could make these bad boys all the time. We found the crock while on vacation in Scottsdale (of course. I mean, where else would a gal get a pot for baked beans?) and then I got into the habit of baking up a batch every six months or so.
Now, the baked beans were good and all, but there was always something just a little bit disappointing about them. They would spend a few hours in the oven making the whole house smell dizzyingly delicious, but then when I tried them, they’d be just slightly lacking. I’m not sure what the deal was, but I always thought they tasted a little tinny or something. They ended up just short of delicious, which was odd, because the ones at the CIA were so good. I always used just whatever navy beans were on hand in bags on the shelves of my bobo grocery store, and didn’t think twice about it. That is, I didn’t think twice about it until now.
You see, this summer we made an amazing internet discovery: Rancho Gordo. I cannot stress enough how much I am in love with them. Every time we eat a new dish made with Rancho Gordo beans, we start gushing about how, of all the wonderful things we’ve eaten or done this summer, Rancho Gordo is our big winner. And when I looked at the bag of Santa Maria Pinquito beans that I’d bought from them, I decided to try them in my baked bean recipe.
I started out by not soaking the beans. I know, I know… But Rancho Gordo’s site says that their beans are fresher than grocery store beans, so they don’t take as long to cook. The pinquitos are so wee, too, that I figured they’d be fine just going into the pot dry. The deal with the recipe itself, then, is as follows (I halved it for this batch):
1 lb. of dried pea or navy beans (soaked overnight in 1 quart of water, then drained)
1 cup of diced onion
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp dry mustard
1/3 cup molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 bay leaf
1 cup diced tomato
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
2 cups water
3 oz slab salt pork (or 4 slices of bacon)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup ketchup
Add the onion and garlic to the bottom of a ceramic bean pot or oven-proof pot with a tight-fitting cover. Top with the beans.
In a small saucepan combine the mustard, molasses, brown sugar, bay leaf, tomatoes, salt, pepper and water. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer lightly for 2 minutes. Pour the boiling mixture over the beans.
Score the salt pork deeply from the fat side nearly all the way through, and place skin side up on top of the beans. Or top with the bacon slices.
Cover the pot and bake in a 300-degree (F) oven for 4 hours, or until the beans are tender. While baking, periodically check the beans and add boiling water if needed to keep the beans covered with liquid. When the beans are tender, remove from the oven and stir in vinegar and ketchup.
For this batch, I used our own Newburgh onions from the garden, garlic from the farm, and ramapo tomatoes from the farm. And instead of salt pork, I used slab bacon. I’ve made these both ways (with the salt pork and with bacon), and I prefer the bacon because when the beans are cooked, I like to dice up the bacon slices really finely and stir them in with the beans.
Now, based on past experience with navy beans, and based on using unsoaked pinquitos, I was fully prepared for this pot to take MONTHS to cook. I hovered at the side of the oven, regularly adding liquid, calculating that I shouldn’t even bother testing the beans until they’d been baking for at least five hours.
So color me shocked when the experts at Rancho Gordo turned out to be right — these puppies cook up in no time flat. After just three hours in the oven, my baked beans were perfectly tender and a bit soupy, thanks to my overzealousness adding water to the pot.
But even with just a bit too much liquid in the mix, these beans managed to erase, in one fell swoop, all of my doubts about this recipe or my ability to prepare it. They were delicious. The beans themselves are, unlike the grocery-store navy beans, actually flavorful. They are rich and meaty and a little bit sweet, and the perfect size and texture for a barbecue bean. In this recipe, they work so well with all the sweet flavors. As they baked up, they made the house smell intoxicating, and somehow still managed to be even more delicious than I expected.
We had these with grilled turkey burgers, and I nearly died from delight. The very first thing I did after eating them was order more pinquito beans!