Saffron Stewed White Beans: Updating a Classic

white beans stewed with saffronLast Sunday I was flipping through my newest cookbook, Classico e Moderno, looking for some inspiration.  We were having roast lamb for dinner and I was searching for something new to serve alongside it.  I found a classic dish for stewed beans which supposedly is a common Tuscan side for roasts and braises and it looked to be a nice change of pace from what we’ve been having.  However, I didn’t have all of the ingredients and I wasn’t about to run out to the store on a Sunday for a few items.  No problem.  Like any cook worth his weight in butter, I improvised and turned the dish into saffron stewed beans.  I guess you could say I turned a classico into a moderno!

This is such a flavorful dish, especially if you like saffron.  The beans were seasoned well from the quick soak and there’s a great layer of saffron poking through the stewiness (is that a word?) of the tomatoes.  You’ll see I used plain old water instead of a flavored stock and I really like the result it gave.  I’ve noticed any time I use saffron and then add stock, the stock tends to overpower the saffron in taste and color of the dish.  Instead of getting the nice yellow color of saffron you end up with more of an ochre color and a weaker flavor.  I figured water wouldn’t step on the saffron like stock and my gamble paid off with a flavorful, colorful dish.  I thought about garnishing with some parsley, even if just for some contrast, but the dish tastes so good I didn’t want to mess with it.

Leave yourself plenty of time to cook the beans.  I cooked these for 90 minutes and there were still some undercooked beans mixed in there.  Toothsome, I think, is the word you use to spin the extra al dente-ness.  I believe part of the problem was not enough liquid and not enough care in giving a good stir occasionally.  Perhaps a little more of the latter since the beans stewing on the bottom were perfectly cooked.  So just take some extra care when stewing to make sure the beans get some turn-over in the pot.

Saffron Stewed White Beans (makes 4-6 servings)

  • 1 ½ C dried Great Northern white beans
  • Salt
  • ¼ C olive oil
  • ½-1 tsp Saffron
  • ½ medium sized onion, diced (or 1 shallot, diced)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can of whole tomatoes (28 oz.) drained and diced
  • Water to cover beans

Using the quick soak method add the dried beans to 4 cups of water, add 3-4 big pinches of salt, and bring to a rapid boil over medium-high heat for 2 minutes.  After 2 minutes are up remove from burner place lid on pot and let sit for an hour.  Drain the beans and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pot on the stove top over medium high heat.  Add the onions and garlic and sauté until soft, about 3-4 minutes.  Stir in a good sized pinch of saffron, then stir in the beans and tomatoes.

Pour enough water in to cover the beans by an inch and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to simmer and cook beans for 60-90 minutes or until beans are tender.

Garnish if you like and serve.

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