assoulet: Comfit of duck, sausage and delicate white beans from Castelnaudary. Even the name is melodious. Tonno con fagioli: Cannellini or borlotti with tuna and grilled sweet red peppers. Both are simple but memorable combinations, casserole mixtures to tickle a cook’s imagination.
But oh, those beans. We may love them, but do they reciprocate?
In France, beans go with bread. Why? Bean sugars are poorly digested. Eating bread assures heartier chewing and helps the stomach to assimilate the rowdy legumes. Or so bread lovers say.
I take such wive’s tales seriously because many are born from experience. So bread with beans it is.
But sometimes, even bread (or the hit-and-miss “Beano”, a anti-bloating digestive enzyme used in the United States) falls short, and an enthusiastic bean fan can find himself feeling as though he’s pay dues simply for having eaten lunch.
The upper intestine, unable to digest the bean sugars, pushes them to lower realms where hungry bacteria welcome the sweets — the result is gas.
But bean-lovers, rejoice! A French friend and an excellent cook has given me the secret for success with assault or anything bean-based dish: buy them beans fresh in July or August when the canellini or borlotti are just out of their pods, and freeze them for future dishes.
Dried beans have more concentrated amounts of the sugars, which cause the dreaded ballooning. In fresh ones the concentration is lower.
Here’s another digestive tip for cooking dried beans: Cover them with cold water and bring to a boil. Immediately turn off the flame and let them cool. Toss out the water and do the same again. Toss out the second water and start afresh with 1/3 beer or white wine, 2/3 cold water, a chopped sweet onion, a tiny peperoncino, and a splash of olive oil. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Simmer, covered, until very, very tender for better digestibility. Add a couple of chopped garlic cloves and a few leaves of sage, sautéed in a little olive oil. Correct for salt, and serve. A squeeze of lemon will also balance the dish.
As for fresh beans, they need no water changes and cook far more quickly than dried ones. Do remove the foam that rises to the surface. Some cooks simmer fresh beans in vegetable or chicken broth, some in wine and water, some in water only. In the end it depends on personal taste.
Summer beans are delicate. Olive oil, salt and pepper, and you have a perfect lunch. I also love them with tuna in olive oil, thin slices of very sweet summer onions, fresh pepper, and chopped parsley, basil or cilantro for taste and decoration.
A smooth bean soup is yet another way to foil the sugars. Cook white, black or brown beans in the above manner with an onion, carrot and celery stalk, chopped fine. When the beans are tender, add the sautéed garlic and sage, and in a food processor purée the mixture until smooth. Return the beans to the fire and add chicken or vegetable broth until the soup is a consistency you like. Heat again, and serve with a splash of sherry, a round of lime and hard-cooked egg, chopped, in each bowl.
In southeast France, the sweet wine of the Languedoc-Roussillon, called Banyuls, is a delightful companion to this soup, along with a spoonful of good yogurt, crème fraiche or mascarpone.
— If you have any additional thoughts on beans, or any food questions, please write me at [email protected].