Freaking Out Squares

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Beans, Beans, and Nothing But Beans!

In lieu of the supremely crass and obvious ditty about magical fruit, I give you this lyric from Into the Woods to kick off the second of this week’s gastronomic installments. (Any Sondheim fans care to weigh in here? Is it “nothing but beans” or “the special beans”? Or neither? I’m a Sweeney Todd girl myself, so if anyone wants to bring me up to speed with the fairy tales, please do so.)

Etruscan White Beans with Penne

Clever, eh? You’ve heard of Tuscan White Beans, right? Well, this is a little corruption of that, and it works because those white beans have been in the fridge since time immemorial. Yes, very witty, Wilde. Do get on with it.


Half a yellow onion, finely chopped
Three good-sized plum tomatoes, also finely chopped (you can use canned—drain, or don’t; it’s up to you. If you don’t, you can probably skip the water)
A handful of fresh basil, chopped…you guessed it (you can skip the fresh basil and use twice as much dried basil, but there’s something so soul-salving about fresh herbs, n’est-ce pas?)
One tablespoon olive oil
One and a half cupfuls of cooked white beans (or one 16-oz can)
Dried oregano, dried basil, and salt to taste
Two cloves garlic, chopped
One cup water
One tablespoon milk
One cup penne


1. Slosh olive oil into the pan, chop up the veggies, and sauté until soft.

2. Add the beans. If you’re using canned, drain them and rinse off the sliminess. Actually, you can probably get away with not draining them—again, you probably won’t need to use the water—but do rinse them, because you don’t need to be eating that ick.

3. Dump the water in, if need be, and sauté over medium heat until soft(er). This should take about thirty minutes if your oven was constructed sometime after the JFK assassination. If you live in a charming prewar like I do, it will probably take closer to 45 minutes. Sometime in the middle of all this softening, add the seasonings to taste.

4. Chop up the garlic and scrape it in the pan. If you like, you can leave this step to the very end, because garlic loses its flavor if cooked too long. I like my garlic tasting like it would in that restaurant in The Godfather where Michael shoots that dude who shot the Don, so I added it about five minutes before the pasta was done.

5. Which reminds me—cook your pasta according to package directions until al dente. Now is probably a good time to get that pasta water a-rollin’.

6. Bean water: If you’re using dried beans that you cooked a week ago because you were planning to make chili, but you decided to hold off because you puked on Saturday morning (yum!) and you thought you had the flu, but it turned out to be the aftereffects of drinking, like, a whole can of coffee in three days, and fresh tomatoes, you’re gonna have to add the H20, because that bean concoction is gonna be sticking to the pan. Use your judgment. You want to go for a sort of pasta fagioleconsistency, but you don’t want too much of a broth at the end. You’re looking for moist, not soupy.

7. Swish in the milk for that extra creamy taste.

8. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and set it aside. If you’ve managed to time it right—and I did, miracle of miracles! —the beans should be at the appropriate texture around the same time the pasta is finished. Scrape the beans into the pasta pot and mix ‘em up. There may be a little bean crust from the frying pan, but that’s just gravy, in a manner of speaking.

9. Sprinkle some of that rice parmesan cheese you’ve had sitting in your fridge for, like, two years on top—or hell, use the real stuff—and inhale. Salud!

You can pair this with a nice Chianti (slurpslurpslurp) unless you’re like me, and you have to stay away from wine because it’s like drinking Sierra Mist. In which case, stick to beer or a couple of cocktails whilst cooking, because you want to be able to eat the damn thing without having it come right back up.

Oh, yes, and make sure you follow up with that yumbly rice custard you should have made with the leftovers from last night’s spicy shrimp and black bean sludge with Texmati rice. I speak of the rice, of course, not the sludge. But whatever gets you through the night, I reckon.


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