Thursday, January 5, 2012

Even Mother Nature Loves Bacon!

To kick off the new year, I need to take a break from the squash trilogy and tell you about something a little more exciting.  I made a fun food discovery at the East Side Farmer's Market late in the season last year.  (Seems strange to already refer to 2011 as "last year")  Tonight I took a stab at cooking my new found fun and these little morsels lived up to every expectation.  What are these tasty morsels?  Marrow Fat Beans.

Even if you don't like dried beans, how could you not be intrigued by one named after the most decadent part of an animal?  And as if that weren't enough to get you to try them, how about the promise that Mother Nature gave them the flavor of bacon?  Bacon?!  Beans that taste like BACON?!  These adorable snow white beans were definitely coming home with me.  How this wonderful legume ended up nearly extinct is a mystery to me.   Thanks to Slow Food's Ark of Taste and the folks at Sprouting Acres Farm, the Marrow Fat Bean has been saved from vanishing and is available for us to enjoy.

These beans have been soaked, when they are dry they are bright white.

If you're wondering what the Ark of Taste is, please allow me to introduce you.  The Ark of Taste is a modern day Noah's Ark in the food world.  It was created by Slow Food International in 1996 as a way of bringing attention to and preserving foods in danger of extinction thanks to our current monoculture food industry.  It's a really fun and interesting list that I encourage you to check out. (The U.S. even has their own list...US Slow Food Ark of Taste) I also encourage you to consider growing some of these varieties in your own garden and seeking out others to sample when you have the chance.  One of the best ways to encourage and support diversity in our food system is to create a demand by eating said diverse food!

What follows is my first attempt at cooking my special 1 cup bag of Marrow Fat Beans.  My online search for recipe ideas and information about these beans was pretty lack luster.  A recipe from Human Nature inspired the cassoulet I ended up concocting.  Interestingly enough, the Human Nature folks got their beans from Sprouting Acres Farm as well, and their recipe post was inspired by the Eat Local Challenge put on annually by Willy St Co-op (something I strongly encourage you to try when it comes around again in September 2012)

My "recipe" here is a rough guide for sure, and honestly the way I tend to cook.  The only time I follow a recipe to the letter is when I'm baking.

Marrow Fat Bean Cassoulet

1.  Because I hadn't planned ahead, I started by doing the quick soak method with the beans.  Place beans in a saucepan, cover with water, cover pan with a lid, bring to a boil for 5 minutes, remove from heat and let sit for and hour or so.  Rinse beans and cook according to your recipe.

2.  Since the limited information I found online suggested these beans required an overnight soak and a long slow cooking time, I decided to pull out my pressure cooker to speed things up.  I sautéed some sliced onion, rough chopped carrot, and cloves from an entire bulb of garlic (cloves cut in half lengthwise).

3.  Then I added a package of George's Fresh Kielbasa from Willow Creek Farm, sliced in 2 inch sections, and continued to sauté until everything was lightly browned.  (This sausage is fantastic and deserves it's own blog post.  Be sure to follow the link to read more about it!  Willy Street Co-op occasionally carries it in their meat freezer.)

4.  I added the soaked and rinsed beans, some salt, and a sizable dollop of Basil Pistou (thanks to a suggestion from my friend Jan M., I used this method for preserving my summer supply of basil and parsley...brilliant!)   I also added a light sprinkle from each of my jars of Green Bell pepper, Red Bell & Carmen pepper, and celery powders.  A method I used for preserving my some of my summer bounty by dehydrating my garden peppers and celery, then pulverizing to a coarse powder in my food processor.  These powders have been so handy!!

5.  I covered the whole lot with 8 oz vegetable broth and another cup plus of water.  I cooked the cassoulet in my pressure cooker on high for 18 minutes, then released the pressure using the rapid cold water method.

The initial result was a bit of a soupy mess and I was nearly disappointed.  It turns out the beans don't require quite as much cooking as I had anticipated.  I drained the "soup" reserving the solids to a bowl and putting the liquid back in the pan.  After a quick taste I decided the broth needed a bit of wine, so I added a solid glug or two of a dry white wine I keep in my fridge for cooking.  I brought the liquid to a boil and cooked it uncovered until it was reduced to a nice thick sauce.  I added the sauce back to the solids and voila...dinner was ready!!

The result was a delicious, creamy, soul warming cassoulet with wonderful bursts of flavor from the now fork tender kielbasa.  Now for the million dollar question...did the beans taste like bacon?  I wouldn't say they have the forceful taste of bacon, but they do have a wonderfully distinctive and delicate flavor of smoky ham.  A description of the beans I found suggests they lend themselves well to being pureed.  These beans are definitely the creamiest I've ever tasted.  A piece of crusty sourdough toast and a glass of beer made this a dinner to definitely make again!!

Happy 2012 to you all!!

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