Drunken Beans with Polenta and Garden Tomatoes

drunken beans with polenta

Just got home from seeing Julie and Julia with Jordan, Sue, and Priya.  Everyone at Columbia City Theater howled with laughter at all the right parts, and Meryl Streep was luminous.  No deep lessons about life, but a beautiful portrait of two women coming alive, finding their vocations in a world that wants us to settle for less.  I'm sure I'm not the only food blogger writing about this tonight.  Grace joined us at Verve for a glass of wine (all the wine quaffing in the movie made us crave some) then we drove all the way up to Capitol Hill for ice cream at Molly Moon.  We were the last ones in before they locked the door.  Do not mess with five women coming from a food movie who are craving salted caramel ice cream.

Please don't expect me to master all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, though.  This blog should be called Mastering the Art of Throwing a Bunch of Random Stuff Together and Giving it an Appetizing Name. I own a paperback of Julia Child's manifesto (bought it a garage sale in college) but I don't recall ever using it.  Is that sacrilege?  I know that part of my fascination with food has at least something to do with Julia Child and her influence on American home cooks.  I'm sure of it.  But she cooks with a lot of precision (and an awful lot of offal), and I definitely do not have time to debone a duck or poach a perfect egg when my toddler wanted dinner a half hour ago.  Amen?

I've been mastering the (art?) of dried beans for years, and here's another version for you.  Yesterday was a get-it-together-after-vacation day--laundry, grocery shopping, list-making.  In the morning, I put these beans on the back of the stove and they simmered happily there for half the day.  I had leftover polenta from my late-night dinner and some Sungold tomatoes from the garden.  You can definitely eat these beans in other ways (with BBQ, with rice) and this combo would be delicious with a fried egg on top.  You may see a photo of that here tomorrow.  This blog could also be called Mastering the Art of Eating Virtually the Same Thing all Week and Calling it Something Else.

big ol' pot of beans

Drunken Beans with Polenta and Garden Tomatoes
I always soak my beans to reduce cooking time, but you don't need to do that.  Just count on more stovetop time.  I didn't do these in a slow cooker because I wanted the bacon and onions to brown.  You could brown them on the stove, though, then add them and everything else to a crockpot.  Cooking times for beans are always approximate--there's no surefire way to tell they're done except tasting them to make sure they're tender.  This recipe makes a lot.  If you don't want to eat them 4 nights in a row or you live alone, you should probably halve it.  And don't be afraid to throw lots of salt in these!  They won't taste good otherwise.  And before you vegetarians hate on me, you can definitely make these without the bacon.  The fried onions will give them a nice smoky flavor.

Drunken Beans
4 c. dried pinto beans, soaked overnight
2 Tb. vegetable oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
1/2 lb. thick-sliced bacon, diced
1 12 oz. bottle beer
1/2 c. ketchup
2 Tb. Tapatio hot sauce (more to taste)
1 14 oz. can diced or whole tomatoes, pureed in the food processor
salt and pepper

In a large, heavy stockpot, saute onion in oil until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.  Add bacon and cook on medium until bacon is crisping up.  Add beer to deglaze pan.

Add beans, a few pinches of salt, and enough water to cover by about 2".  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour. Beans won't be tender yet.

After an hour, add ketchup, tapatio, and pureed tomatoes.  Simmer until tender, about an hour more.  Salt and pepper to taste, and add more spicy stuff to taste.

7-Minute Polenta
From Christopher Kimball's Kitchen Detective. The polenta in my photo has been cooled, cut into wedges, and thrown in the grill pan.  You can do that, or you can serve these beans over soft polenta.

2 ts. kosher salt
4 c. water
1 1/2 c. coarse cornmeal
4 Tb. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan
freshly ground black pepper

Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Add the salt, then gradually add the cornmeal while stirring with a wooden spoon.  Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, stirring constantly.  The polenta should be smooth, and large bubbles will pop on the surface.  Cook until very thick but not stiff, 5-7 minutes.  Off heat, add the butter, cheese, and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.

If you want firmer polenta for grilling or frying, spread the hot polenta into a square baking pan or pie pan. Put in the fridge until it cools and firms up, about 30 minutes.  Cut into squares, triangles, or wedges, brush with oil, and grill.  Or gently fry them in olive oil or butter in a skillet.

Cute Little Salsa
Take a 2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes.  Halve them, and gently toss with 1 clove minced garlic, a few tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro, a finely diced and seeded serrano chile, a squeeze of lime juice, and a drizzle of olive oil.

To assemble: In a pasta bowl, ladle some beans.  Arrange 3 slices grilled polenta on top, and spoon some salsa.  If you're using soft polenta, put that in first, top with beans, then salsa.