I love beans. All kinds of beans prepared in all kinds of ways. But when I want beans at home (and not in chili or cuisinarted beyond recognition into hummus), I'm usually not prepared. The thing about beans is, they're high maintenance. You've got to soak them overnight and rinse and then, if I want to make my awesome cuban black beans, cook them all day. And I do mean, all damned day. It's kind of daunting. I've tried substituting canned beans, but the texture is all wrong, kind of what I imagine the texture of the inside of a dung beetle would be. Cheap and healthful beans may be. Delicious, too. But definitely high maintenance.
Then, a few weeks ago, Melissa Clark posted this recipe for herbed white beans and sausage stew. It cooks in a matter of hours, no overnight soaking required. What?I'm in! So I tried it and it was good, especially the beans which had real flavor and delicious texture. Not satisfied, I adapted it to a rustic Italian greens and beans recipe. The best part is that you don't have to be organized enough to think of it the night before. The cooking time is about 2 or 2 1/2 hours, but most of that time is just the beans simmering. You can check in on them every 15 or 20 minutes or so, but you can sit around with your feet up reading the paper or watching hockey, knowing that a delicious, healthy and cheap dinner is on the way.
You will need:
1 bag of dried great northern beans
1 pound of loose sausage (hot or sweet, depending on your taste)
4-6 cloves of garlic
1 large spanish onion
3 bundles of swiss chard
several sprigs of fresh thyme
freshly grated nutmeg
crushed red pepper
grated pecorino romano
Heat some olive oil in a soup pot or large roasting pot. Add the sausage and really brown it and get it crumbled up. You want it to be cooked and you don't want great big chunks of it. Remove the sausage to a paper towel lined dish.
Add to the soup pot the diced carrots, chopped garlic, diced onion and add about 1 cup of white wine. As to cooking wine, some say that you shouldn't cook with it if you wouldn't drink it. Fiddlesticks. You don't want to use a bottle of wine that's been sitting around open for several weeks, turning vinegary, but you don't have to spend a ton of money on it, either. I usually get wine that is on special, so my cooking wine rarely costs me more than $7 per bottle. This week, I'm using a Mondavi Chardonnay (cost $6) that I would never, ever drink because it's a chardonnay. Blech. But for cooking, it's just fine.
So, you add the veg and wine. You want to deglaze the pan, so really work it to get up all the brown bits of goodness left over from the sausage. Cook about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
Add the beans, 2 cups of chicken stock and about 6 cups of water. Add the thyme and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Bring that up to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer. Add the sausage back in and let it cook for about 2 hours. If it's too dry, add some more water (or wine). Check for salt. You may not need to salt this much because sausage is usually kinda salty.
Meanwhile, clean and coarsely chop the swiss chard. In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add a pinch of salt. Add the chard and let that cook for about 7 minutes. You want to cook any residual bitterness out of the greens. Strain the greens, add the cooked chard to the bean pot, and add some freshly grated nutmeg. Nutmeg and greens go together like Butch and Sundance. Cook for another 30 minutes or so.
Serve in a bowl with grated pecorino romano cheese and some good crusty bread.