(Scroll down for what may be the best baked beans recipe in the world)
This was high cuisine for me at the time; spicy meat and soft beans in a rich gravy on buttery toast. The warm satisfying feeling I got from that meal was matched only by the warm and satisfying flatulence one could expect around lunchtime.
These days, mornings are full of children and work calls and taking garbage bins out; I rarely have time for sausages and beans on toast anymore. Besides, the flatulence is strangely unwelcome in the office (and I work alone).
Sometimes however, revisiting the dishes of our youth can combine nostalgia with a truly excellent food experience. For me this is one of the most powerful experiences one can have.We grow lots of vegetables and some fruit in our moderately sized backyard in Hobart, Tasmania. And frankly, beans are cheap. One does not typically imagine that beans grown in the backyard and dried are going to taste any different to dried beans from the supermarket.
So we don’t plant beans. But when an unknown plant sprouted from a vacant spot in one of our vege plots and the leaf shape indicated it was a bean, we left it there on a whim to see what it would produce.
I put a trellis up, and in time the plant fruited. They were long, green beans with a very light fuzz – clearly not French beans, green beans, broad beans, or any other bean we could identify.
Research produced results: Our interloping bean plant was a Scarlett Runner Bean, pods best eaten when young and tender. Everything indicated old pods would be too tough and fibrous, and the beans themselves not large and prolific enough to be bothered harvesting them at the end of the season for drying.
This previously unwanted plant produced a seemingly endless crop of fruit however and at this, the end of summer, there still remains a large amount of both fresh and dried pods on the plant.
The tomato plants have us in a glut at this point also, and frankly there is only so much pressure one can experience from the natural world before one takes the hint and makes a badass batch of home-made baked beans in spicy tomato sauce.
We shelled them in the afternoon to reveal a mass of stunning purple speckled beans, and they went into a large bowl of water to soak overnight.
BAKED BEANS IN TOMATO SAUCE
I’ve found over the years that there’s no substitute for pre-soaking your beans. On the odd occasion when short of time I admit I have caved and put unsoaked beans straight into the pot, hoping that a long slow cook will do the trick. I’ve found they inevitably end up with a grainy texture no amount of simmering will fix.
Additionally you MUST withhold salt from the pot until the beans are as tender as you want them. Salting the pot will destroy your chances of tender creamy beans.
This recipe is such a personal comfort style dish that I can only suggest you need to play with it to find exactly how you enjoy it. We tend to cook by feel rather than following any recipe to the letter – even our own.
Our beans were not as dried as those you may get from a packet, and so I suggest you cook packet dried beans in plenty of unsalted boiling water until they’re tender before adding to the sauce as we have done.
Approx. 700 grams of beans
2kg of fresh ripe tomatoes
a brown onion
several cloves of garlic
apple cider vinegar
a few cloves
3 or 4 fresh or dried bay leaves
ground black pepper
Drain your soaked beans and set aside.
Halve and finely slice a brown onion and sauté on a medium-low flame until lightly caramelised. This should take 5-10 mins.
In the meantime quarter and roughly chop plenty of fresh ripe tomatoes and several cloves of garlic. Add them to the pot once the onion is sufficiently browned and turn the heat up to a medium flame. Cook fairly hard until the tomatoes begin to break down.
Add brown sugar, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar and stir. Add cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, ground cumin, a few cloves, 3 or 4 fresh or dried bay leaves and plenty of ground black pepper.
Cook on a low simmer until the tomatoes have reduced to a thick sauce and the beans have become soft and creamy. Taste again for balance at this point (remember it hasn’t been salted yet) and salt to your taste.
This made enough for three large containers of the cooked dish, and we freeze and keep two for later.
The next morning I ate them for breakfast with home-made spelt-bread toasted and slathered with butter, and some bacon.
The smokiness of the paprika, sharp vinegar note and balanced sweetness act as a foil against the creamy beans to deliver a truly comforting dish.
Now lets see what happens at lunchtime…