When I was working for the recipes for the Heirloom Bean Book with Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo, my diet changed a lot. With a little planning, I found that it’s pretty easy to soak and cook dried beans once or twice a week. Once they’re cooked and in your fridge, they can become the basis for all kinds of soups, salads, casseroles, appetizers….pretty much anything. Here’s a recipe I taught in once of my recent classes. It comes together quickly once the beans are cooked and is even better reheated. The second time around, the crispy breadcrumbs soak up the flavors and become soft, almost like a bread soup. It’s great for lunch the next day.
Cannellini Bean and Sausage Gratin with Kale and Crispy Breadcrumbs
Serves 6 to 8
8 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 medium onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 pound of cannellini beans, picked through and rinsed thoroughly and then soaked for 4 hours or overnight
1/2 pound loaf of country bread, crusts removed and crumb torn into irregular pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 Italian sausages (12 oz.)
1 bunch (about 1/2 pound) lacinato kale, washed, dried, and sliced into 1/2 inch thick ribbons
1-28 ounce can diced tomatoes
In a large soup pot, over medium heat, warm two tablespoons olive oil. Add 1 medium onion (reserving the half onion), garlic, and celery. Sauté until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Drain the beans of their soaking water and add them to the pot. Cover the beans with cold, filtered water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Lower the heat to a bare simmer, cover partially and cook until tender, stirring occasionally. If the beans are particularly old, you will need to keep adding water to keep the beans submerged. Cooking time can be anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, make the breadcrumbs. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the breadcrumbs in a shallow baking dish and toss them with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread them out in a single layer and toast in the oven until golden brown and crisp, 7 to 10 minutes.
When the beans are nearly soft, add salt to taste.
In a large heavy skillet, over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil. Brown the sausages until cooked through and remove from pan (if using already cooked sausages, simply brown them evenly). Pour off excess fat, leaving about 1 tablespoon. Add the onions and cook until soft and fragrant. Add the kale and a little salt and cook, stirring, until wilted. Add the tomatoes, season to taste with salt and pepper, and simmer for about 10 minutes to blend flavors.
Cut the sausage into bite-sized pieces and return it to the pan, stirring to blend ingredients. When the beans are cooked, transfer the contents of the skillet to the bean pot and stir to mix the ingredients.
Taste and adjust seasonings and transfer to a 3 quart baking dish. Drizzle the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the dish and top with the breadcrumbs, distributing them evenly. Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F and bake until the dish is bubbly and brown, 10 to 15 minutes.