This is very easy, but takes time. Elapsed time that is – there’s barely ten minutes’ work but it is spread out over twenty four hours.
- 250g dried Haricot beans
- 400g total of diced carrots, onion and celery (or whatever you happen to have to hand)
- one 400g tin of chopped tomatoes (with the juice!)
- a handful (75g) of finely diced bacon
- some herbs (I used a bunch of fresh thyme on this occasion)
Here’s what I do:
- soak the beans overnight in cold water (won’t hurt if they stay soaking until you get back from work the following day)
- put the beans in a change of water, and bring to a savage boil for fifteen minutes, reduce to a gentle bubble and leave for 45 minutes, but an hour won’t hurt – you could chuck in a bay leaf if you wanted to keep them company in the simmering phase
- meanwhile, gently fry the bacon in a heavy casserole until it’s brown and most of the fat has oozed out
- add the chopped veg, and a glug of olive oil, and continue to fry (you could use butter instead of olive oil for a more North European flavour)
- let the veg gently fry until they’re soft, and the onion is going gold around the edges; probably a good twenty minutes
- now is probably a good time to get the oven going at 150°C
- by now the beans should be starting to soften up, so drain them, and add to the casserole, reserving the cooking liquid
- add the tin of tomatoes, and then enough of the cooking liquid to cover
- there’s probably enough salt in the bacon, but taste, and add a touch more if you feel it’s warranted
- add the herbs, grind over some black pepper, give the pot a good stir and consign it to the oven
It will need around two hours. Not only are the beans continuing to cook, they’re soaking up liquid, and the rate at which they do this is known only unto themselves. So, keep an eye. If the liquid looks low, top up with some water from a freshly boiled kettle. At the ninety minute mark, have a taste – the beans need to be cooked through, so no grittiness. (Otherwise they will expand in your stomach and make you explode, at least that’s what my grandmother told me when I was small.)
Serve up as a posh side to sausages or duck, or a mid week supper in its own right.
Or wait ’til nobody’s watching and scoff it on toast with cheese on top.
You could of course add stuff. A splash of Worcester sauce wouldn’t hurt. You could replace the bacon with chorizo, and maybe add some garlic as well. Once you get going with the sausages and duck it becomes full blown cassoulet, which is glorious in its own right, but lacks the comforting simplicity of this dish.