You may have noticed that some of the long-standing disputes in cooking are dualities, with one side pitting against the other as to the better option: unsalted or salted butter, for example, or non-stick versus seasoned cast iron. Crockpot or Instant Pot? Russet or waxy? To salt at the beginning or towards the end of a braise? To bake on a silicone sheet or parchment paper?
Truth be told, these are all false dilemmas, as there are also suitable methods in between, or, in many cases, out-of-the-box third or fourth options. so it goes.
However, a debate has persisted for decades, even centuries, as a dichotomy as to whether or not to soak dried beans, and only cook them directly.
Soaking is done overnight or for hours, or some sort of “quick soak” such as covering them with water, boiling them, turning off the heat, and waiting for an hour.
All the old-time cookbooks in my library (The American Woman Cook Book, 1930; Mrs. Roarer’s Philadelphia Cook Book, 1886; The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1896; The Joy of Cooking, 1931; even James Beards The Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, 1977) Schedule an overnight or 12-hour soak in italicized “soft” water in the form of finger-waving thrust. (Some people also second what lard calls “a quick treatment,” which is a boil-and-stand alternative.)
Another dilemma is when to salt the beans. Grandmothers’ generations have warned never to salt beans until they’re done cooking, otherwise the tough skins don’t soften completely. Nowadays, a group of food scientists recommend salting the soaking water before boiling to soften the skins and guarantee a soft, cushiony inside. (When I lived in Chicago, early and often I would salt when I voted.)
My favorite bean counter, Steve Sandow, owner and farmer, at Rancho Gordo in Napa, Calif. (and from whom I buy all of my heirloom dried beans and whose recipe I prepared and tested for this column) has been cooking dried beans for so long. Cooking from that he has taught himself and his utensils to do what he has found best.
Here’s what he says: “My current, and so far foolproof, technique is: soaking or not, bring the beans and water to a full boil and keep it there for 15, maybe even 20 minutes. Not a gentle boil but a rapid boil.
“This initial bullying makes it clear to the beans that you’re in charge and there’s no turning back. Then turn the heat down as low as you can. If you’re in a hurry, a good simmer is fine. If you’re eating for pleasure The best Simar is the best. Low and slow and full of love.”
As for the beautiful minds among us while eating “musical fruit”? It is not necessary, as food scientist Harold McGee wrote, to toss or replace any soaking water. “It takes out water-soluble oligosaccharides,” he writes, “but it also takes out significant amounts of water-soluble vitamins, minerals, simple sugars, and seed-coat pigments; i.e. nutrients, flavor, color and Antioxidants. That’s a high price to pay.”
Pellegrino Artusi gives ancient advice for the sonorous in his 1891 “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well”, the most important cookbook in modern-day Italy (and the first to be written entirely in Italian). .
His is a classic example of Italian diplomacy and prudence: “Beans take some time to leave the body, some time to quell the pangs of hunger. But … and here there is a but, as in this world.” – and I think you get my point. For partial protection, choose beans with thin skins, or strain them through a sieve.”
Baked Cassoulet Beans with Summer Squash and Corn
From ranchogordo.com. Makes 1 gratin dish; Serves 4-6. To be vegetarian, the original omits pancetta or bacon. Bean’s recommendations are from the recipe’s author; You can use any medium to large dried white bean you like. Cooking times are adjusted for Colorado’s altitude.
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil, plus more for topping
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (crusty bread cut into small pieces or cubes)
- 1 large tomato, diced, plus 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 pound summer squash, very thinly sliced
- 2 ears of corn, kernels removed
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest, plus more for finishing
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3-4 cups cooked Rancho Gordo cassoulet beans, drained Ayocotte Blanco, Royal Corona, or flagellate, reserving some cooking liquid
- Grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
- minced fresh mint or basil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an oven-proof gratin dish. In a small skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add bread crumbs and fry till light golden. To cancel.
Arrange the tomato slices so that they cover the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of squash slices, then top with cornstarch and cherry tomatoes. Save about a quarter of the squash, corn, and cherry tomatoes for the top layer. Sprinkle with minced garlic, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste. Put a layer of beans on top of the vegetables. Pour about 1/4 cup of bean broth over the beans (just enough to moisten them). Layer another layer of squash, corn, and cherry tomatoes on top of the beans. Top with breadcrumbs. Drizzle with olive oil or, if you like, sprinkle with butter.
Bake for about 30-45 minutes, until breadcrumbs are golden and squash is tender. Before serving, drizzle with a little more olive oil and dust with cheese, fresh herbs and more lemon zest.
Subscribe to The Know, our weekly newsletter, to get entertainment news sent straight to your inbox.