I continued my quest to find and create delicious, meat-free comfort food this weekend with a recipe out of my latest issue of Vegetarian Times (which is packed this month with all kinds of awesomeness).
I had only glanced at the recipe when I went to the grocery store, and, fortunately, I already had or bought almost all the ingredients and was able to pull it off. My squeeze loved it and so did I. Next time, I think I’ll pop some bread in the food processor to make chunkier bread crumbs for the top, as the finer, store-bought ones were a little…sandy, for lack of a better term. But make no mistake — this is serious comfort food at its finest. This will feed five or six people easily, or it would freeze really well to eat some other time.
• 1 1/2 dried cannellini beans (I used 2 cans cannellini beans)
• 6 sprigs plus 1 1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme, divided (I didn’t have any fresh, so I employed some cheesecloth and lots of dried thyme)
• 3 sprigs plus 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, divided
• 1/2 medium onion, unpeeled, plus 1 large onion diced (2 c.)
• 3 whole cloves (I used a couple extra)
• 1/2 large or 1 medium fennel bulb, stalks and fronds reserved; bulb quartered and diced (2 c.)
• 12 cloves garlic — 6 whole, 6 minced — divided
• 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
• 2 c. diced carrots
• 1 tsp. white wine vinegar (I was out, so I used apple cider vinegar)
• 3/4 c. coarsely grated parmesan cheese or parm substitute
• 1 1/2 c. fresh bread crumbs
1. Soak beans in large bowl of cold water overnight and drain. Using canned beans, I drained in a strainer, but tried not to rinse them too well, so they wouldn’t be rinsed clean.
2. Put beans in a 6 quart Dutch oven, and add enough water to cover by about 2 inches.
3. Do the following and add to pot:
• Tie thyme and parsley sprigs together and add to pot. In my case, I tied the dried thyme up in cheesecloth and tied the parsley sprigs to it.
• Fennel fronds and stalks, removed from bulb. This required me to cut some of them to fit.
• Pierce onion half with cloves. Because the onion stuck out of the liquid, I ended up putting the clove side face down.
• Halve six of the garlic cloves. It’s OK to leave the peel on.
4. Partially cover and bring to a boil. Turn oven on, to preheat to 400.
5. Uncover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer 35 to 40 minutes, or until beans are just tender (not an issue if you use canned — they’re already tender. BUT they don’t soak up deliciousness as much as dried beans would).
6. Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid. Discard herb bundles, onion, and fennel fronds. Here the directions said to wipe out the dutch oven… but I didn’t.
7. Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add carrots and diced fennel and season with salt a bit. Cover and cook 10 minutes, or until beginning to brown, stirring frequently.
8. Add diced onion, add more salt if you like (I didn’t) and cook, covered, 6 to 8 minutes, or until onion is soft and bottom of pan is browning, stirring occasionally.
9. Add minced garlic and cook one minute, or until fragrant, and remove from heat.
10. Stir in vinegar and deglaze the pan (use it to scrape up all the garbage stuck to the bottom of the pan).
11. Add beans, chopped thyme, 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley, 1/2 c. cheese or cheese substitute and 1 1/2 to 2 c. bean liquid, and stir well to combine. The directions say the liquid should come up to 1 1/2 to 2 inches below top of beans, but I think I’ll put in more next time. I actually thought this direction was a mistake at first, but can’t find anything to back that up. I think more liquid would have bubbled up through the bread crumbs a bit, making the top crunchier and less “sandy” as it was.
12. Put bread crumbs and remaining 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley in a bowl and drizzle in that last 1 Tbsp. oil to moisten the crumbs. Perhaps, instead of more liquid in the previous step, adding a bit more oil or even some of the bean liquid here would have moistened the crumbs more and solved the problem. Yes, I think that’s what I’ll do next time. Thanks for talking that out with me…
13. Spread breadcrumb mixture over the top of the bean mixture and bake, uncovered, 40 to 45 minutes, or until top is browned and juices have bubbled down below the surface (see? doesn’t that make it sound like the liquid was supposed to be ABOVE the beans to begin with?), leaving brown rim around edge of crust.
Cool at least 20 minutes before diving in so beans can absorb a little more deliciousness.
According to VT, each 1-cup serving has only 285 calories, 17 g protein, 11 g of fiber, 5 g of fat (1 g sat fat), 43 g carbs and 150 mg sodium. Pretty good stats for a delicious and filling meal!