I’ve spent more time cooking soups and stews this winter than I have anything else… and as soon as I saw this recipe, I had to make it.
It sounded delicious, slow-cooked white beans with caramelized onions, bacon, pasta, and a bit of spinach for some semblance of healthfulness, all in a rich, thick broth. This is a cheap meal, makes a lot, tastes great leftover, and is totally and completely warming on a cold winter night. Really, you have no reason not to make this (like the roasted cabbage). Leave the bacon out if you want to – the broth of slow-cooked beans and onions should be flavorful enough.
When making this one Sunday, I underestimated the amount of time required to cook the beans. I started the stew around 5 and didn’t start eating until 9 – and the beans were still slightly undercooked. If you want this for dinner, start earlier and really cook it slowly, like the recipe tells you to do.
Serves about 8
1 lb. dried cannelloni beans, or another kind of dried white bean (I used great northern beans)
5 slices bacon, diced (or substitute 1 tablespoon olive oil for vegetarian version)
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 celery stalks, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 pound pasta
5 thyme sprigs
3 teaspoons salt
10 ounces baby spinach
Soak the beans by placing in a large pot. Cover with cold water and let sit for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
In a heavy stock pot or dutch oven, fry the bacon over medium heat. Once crisp, remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Pour off all put one tablespoon of bacon fat. Cook the onions slowly with 1/2 teaspoon of salt until caramelized and turn golden brown, 20-30 minutes. Add the celery and cook just until the celery is softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Remove half of the onion mixture and reserve with the bacon.
Deglaze the pan with one cup of water, scraping up any brown residue that has formed on the bottom of the pan.
Drain the beans and pour them into the pot with the remaining onions. Add the bay leaf and enough water to cover the beans and onions by one inch.
Cover the pot and bake in the oven for an hour. After an hour, check the beans every 15 minutes until they are completely soft. This took a very long time for me – over two hours. Finally I gave up the oven, returned the pot to the stove-top, and cooked the beans that way.
If you haven’t done so already, return the pot to the stove top and set over medium-high heat. Add the bacon, reserved onions, whole thyme sprigs, remaining salt, and pasta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente. Add more water if necessary.
Add the spinach to the pot and stir until it is wilted. Remove the bay leaf and the thyme stems. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.