One of my big changes is cooking ahead of time. When you're trying not to buy beans in cans (extra packaging, chemicals in the liners, transport costs) and you're trying to use more beans, you need to plan ahead! Each week, I choose a different bean to use as the base of the soups I make for our daily lunches. On Saturday night I soak the bag of beans. On Sunday, I boil them up. I usually boil them until they are almost but not quite done. This way I can finish them when they will be cooked in their final form, usually a soup or stew.
I take a few cups of the beans for whatever I am cooking for lunches, and the rest get frozen into 2 cup baggies in the freezer. This way, I'm never out of beans that will be ready in a half hour or less and I have a wide variety in the freezer to choose from. My staples are chickpeas, black turtle beans, romano beans and great white northern beans (my favourite), but I am trying to find sources of funky heirloom beans and will likely grow some of my own this summer.
Winter romano bean and pasta soup
2 large carrots
3 stalks of celery
1 yellow or red bell pepper
2 tbps canola oil
2 cloves garlic
2 pork bones* with meat
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp of oregano
2 l chicken or veggie stock
2 cups of almost cooked romano beans
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1 cup orzo or other small pasta
2 tsp salt
Heat oil on medium-high in a large pan. Chop carrots, celery, onion and pepper into 1 cm pieces. Saute until veggies begin to caramelize around the edges. Mince garlic, add to pan. Make some space in the middle of the pan and brown the pork bones until all sides have a pleasant brown colour.
Add 1I of stock, romano beans, bay leaves and oregano. Simmer on medium, adding stock as necessary to maintain coverage of all components at all times. When the beans are tender and the soup smells enticing, add tomatoes. Take out the bones, and remove any meat. Chop, and put back into the soup. Once the soup beings to simmer again, add orzo and salt. Simmer until orzo is cooked to desired firmness.
If you are on the Weight Watchers program, the Points Plus (tm) value of 1/8 of this batch is 3 points. Not bad for a tasty, high protein, satisfying soup!
Note: You will notice that I added the tomatoes and the salt AFTER the beans were tender. If you add these before they are fully cooked, they will take longer or may not become tender at all. Always add acids and salt after cooking beans.
Serve with homemade bread and a nice glass of red wine. Delicious, healthy and easy on the environment by using beans and pork bones.
(*You could use any type of bones with meat, as a way to develop the flavor of the broth and to make use of all cuts. I get all of my meat from my friends at the Manotick Village Butcher. I am committed to buying local, ethical, healthy meat.)