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Winter Legumes


One of the benefits of living in an agriculturally enlightened state is that all our farmers practice crop rotation of one kind or another. Crop rotation means that we plant a variety of things that alternately deplete and then replenish the soil. And one of the best ways of building the soil back up is to plant legumes. And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino points out, the good news is, we can eat a lot of these winter legumes, particularly the beans.

These beans of winter almost always come to us in a dried form, which means we have to re-hydrate them.  Jerry outlines the process.

Before preparing dried beans, place them in a colander, sort through them thoroughly and remove any debris, and then rinse under cold water. NOTE: Split peas and lentils don’t need to be soaked.  They take about 30 minutes to cook.

In general, the larger the bean, the longer they need to soak and the longer you soak beans, the faster they cook. Soaking beans allows the dried beans to absorb water, which begins to dissolve the starches that cause intestinal discomfort.  While beans are soaking, they are also double to tripling in their size.  You can cook beans without soaking, but it takes longer, and some people think the beans taste better when soaked. Soak most beans in three to four times their volume of cold water for six hours before cooking.  Dried beans are often soaked too long.  Most recipes say overnight.  The best way is to put them in cold water; bring them gently to a boil and then with saucepan off the heat, allow them to remain in the water for 1 to 2 hours only. If soaked too long, they may ferment, which affects their flavor and makes them difficult to digest. To help in the digestion of beans, always discard the water in which they were soaked.

Do not add salt or acidic ingredients, like vinegar, tomatoes or tomato juice, as this will slow the cooking process.  Instead, add these ingredients when the beans are just tender.

The best cookware for beans is a heavy metal pot or saucepan.  Stainless steel, cast aluminum, or cast iron are all excellent.

After soaking, drain the beans and add fresh water to the cooking pot. Bring the beans to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the beans are tender.  (Check your package of beans, as cooking times vary for different varieties.  But also check the beans occasionally, because sometimes the beans will cook more quickly than the package says.)  NOTE: When cooking beans, always simmer. Boiling can cause the cooking liquid to overflow, as well as the beans to break apart and the skins to separate.

Here are two classic recipes that involve winter beans.


                                    Chefs Amy von Lange & Jerry Pellegrino

Duck Confit


4 duck legs
sea salt
black pepper
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

2 cups/450 g duck fat (available online from D’Artagnan)

Day One
Place the duck legs and all the other ingredients except the duck fat in a bowl and mix until the legs are coated evenly with the salt and have rubbed against the herbs. Place in a shallow dish, cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight. 

Day Two
Preheat the oven to 250°F. Render (melt) the duck fat in the saucepan until clear. Place the duck legs and all the other ingredients in a clean, ovenproof casserole. Pour the duck fat over the legs to just cover. Cover the dish with foil and put in the oven. Cook for three hours, or until the skin at the "ankle" of each leg pulls away from the "knuckle." The meat should be tender.

Allow to cool and then store as is in the refrigerator, sealed under the fat. When you need the confit, you can either warm the whole dish, in which case removing the legs will be easy, or dig them out of the cold fat and scrape off the excess.

The Cassoulet


5 cups white beans, soaked
2 pounds fresh pork belly
1 onion, cut into 4 pieces
1 bouquet garni (see below)
salt and pepper
¼ cup duck fat
6 pork sausages

3 onions, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

1 cup crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons fresh thyme

1 cup bread crumbs
4 confit duck legs

Day One
Place the beans in the large bowl and cover with cold water so that there are at least 2 or 6 inches of water above the top of the beans. Soak for 10 to 12 hours.

Day Two
Drain and rinse the beans and place in the large pot. Add the pork belly, the quartered onion, and the bouquet garni. Cover with water, add salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about an hour. Let cool for 20 minutes, then discard the onion and the bouquet garni. Remove the pork belly, cut it into 2-inch squares, and set aside. (If you plan to wait another day before finishing the dish, wait to cut the pork belly until then.) Strain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid separately.

In a large oven proof Dutch oven, heat the duck fat over medium-high heat until it shimmers and becomes transparent. Carefully add the sausages and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside, draining on paper towels. In the same pan, brown the squares of pork belly on each side. Remove and set aside, draining on paper towels. In the same pan, over medium-high heat, brown the sliced onions, the garlic. Add one cup of the reserved bean cooking liquid and, using a spatula, scrap and brown bits of off the bottom of the pot. Add the beans, pork belly, sausages tomatoes, and thyme.

Use just enough of the reserved cooking liquid to just cover the beans. Bring the cassoulet to a boil with occasional stirring. Reduce the heat and simmer for one hour with occasional stirring. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top of the cassoulet and place under the broiler until the breadcrumbs just begin to turn brown. Carefully remove the pot from the oven. Place the confit duck legs on the breadcrumbs, skin side up and return to the broiler. Cook until the duck skin turns golden brown and becomes crispy. Remove and serve.

                                    Congri or Black Beans & Rice

           (taken from cooking.nytimes.com)


1 cup dried black beans

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

1 small green pepper, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

5 or 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, roughly chopped

¼ teaspoon dried dill

2 small bay leaves

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon dry red wine

1 ½ cups long-grain rice, rinsed

Rinse the beans and pick them over for any small stones. Put the beans and 8 cups water in a medium-size pot. Bring to a boil, then move from the heat, partly covered and let sit for 2 hours. (Time will vary depending on the bean.)

Meanwhile, make the sofrito: Put the oil in a medium-size pot (large enough to hold the rice as well) over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion, green pepper and garlic. Add a pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper. Sauté until the vegetables are limp. Stir in the oregano, dill and bay leaves and remove from heat.

Drain the beans, reserving the broth being careful to not break the beans. In a large measuring cup, add the vinegar and wine, 1 cup of the reserved bean broth and enough water for all the liquid to measure 2 ¼ cups.

Put the sofrito back on medium heat, add the rice and stir to combine. Cook the rice for 1 to 2 minutes, then add the seasoned bean broth/water mixture and the salt. Bring to a boil, stir, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 17 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork and return cover to pot for 10 minutes.

Remove bay leaves and put rice mixture into a mixing bowl. Gently mix in the beans, being careful not to break them. Season well with salt and pepper and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve hot.

Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.
Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.