All day (or all night) baked beans inspired by Laurie Colwin

Well, well, here’s Autumn with it’s glorious bright days and cool evenings – I always fall in love with Melbourne in the Autumn.

I haven’t been doing quite as much cooking – or at least quite as much cooking that I think is of any interest here – since I’ve been pregnant, but also lots of the cooking I have done in the last little while has been while we have people over, and I just feel weird about photographing food and scribbling recipe notes while my friends are here. However, I have been making some good stuff and when I get a chance I’ll re-make and write up the shitake mushroom gyoza I made a few days ago.  As mushroom season is almost upon us so it’s totally an appropriate time – even though I made them from dried mushrooms and therefore can make them any old time.

Today I’m doing another fairly autumnal (or wintery) dish, everyone’s favourite – baked beans.  I’ve been reading Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking: a writer in the kitchen, a collection of essays about how she cooked and the things she loved (and the disasters) with the occasional recipe thrown in – extremely charming.  I haven’t followed her recipe exactly (or even hardly), there isn’t actually a recipe to follow, it’s just a description of what she did in the middle of an essay about “the same old thing” – essentially comfort food.  I was drawn to it by her explanation of why she had made the baked beans – their boiler had broken down in the middle of winter (this is in New York) so the house was freezing and she wanted an excuse to leave the oven on all night to keep the kitchen warm.  I used to do that in the last rental house that Andy and I live in because it had no heating and the entire back wall of the house was glass doors (not double glazed or anything) with no blinds or curtains to keep any heat there was in.  She also didn’t have a lid for her pot so she made a heavy dough lid and sealed the pot with that.  Wonderful.

Baked Beans – enough for 8 people or lots of leftovers for freezing

800 g navy or cannellini beans (little white beans)
2 small onions, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 sticks of celery, chopped fairly roughly
1 carrot, finely diced
2 bay leaves
3-4 TBS white miso
1 TBS golden syrup (or molasses or treacle or brown sugar.  Something dark)
1/3 can tomatoes or 1 large chopped tomato (optional)
1 TBS tamari

Preheat the oven to about 125-150°

Wash the beans then put them in a large pot with cold water and bring it to a rolling boil.  Once the water has come to boil, turn off the heat and strain the beans, running them under cold water to cool them off.  You don’t need to soak the beans for this recipe because they are cooked for a long time at a low temperature so the liquid has time time penetrate the middle of the beans without overcooking the outside so that your bean collapse into mush (not that I mind beany mush to be honest). The reason you do the quick boil is that it helps with the fartyness that beans can engender.

In an ovenproof pot (I use an enamelled cast iron pot) fry the onions, garlic, celery and carrot with the bay leaves until the onion is just cooked through – don’t bother browning them, but it’s no matter if you do.  Turn off the heat and stir the beans through the onion mix.

in a small bowl mix the miso, golden syrup, tomatoes, and tamari with a little water to help the miso along.  Taste it and adjust the flavours to your palate.  It will be very strongly flavoured but remember that it has to go across a large amount of beans that you are also going to add water to.  Laurie Colwin’s sauce is made from tomato paste, tomato sauce (I think this means passata rather than what we would call tomato sauce because she was American) molasses, Worcestershire sauce, and dijon mustard, which are also great flavours but Andy hates mustard (!) and I’m having an eternal miso affair so I went in a different direction.  Thin the sauce with enough water to fill the bowl you’re using – this will just make it easier to stir through the beans and get any stuck miso off the side of the bowl.

Stir the miso mixture through the beans then add enough water to the pot to just come up to the top of the beans.  Stir around so that everything is mixed in properly then give the liquid a taste to see if it needs anything more, keeping in mind that the liquid will reduce so the flavours will intensify a bit as it cooks.

Cover the pot tightly with some foil then put the lid on and whack it in the oven.  Go away and do something else for the rest of the day (or do it overnight and just go to sleep).  Come back about 6 hours later, eat some really great, soft and creamy beans.  best with buttery toast.  Might need a touch of salt and pepper and maybe any herbs you happen to have sitting around.