Jim Dixon wrote about food for WW for more than 20 years, but these days most of his time is spent at his olive oil-focused specialty food business Wellspent Market. Jim’s always loved to eat, and he encourages his customers to cook by sending them recipes every week through his newsletter. We’re happy to have him back creating some special dishes just for WW readers.
My love of beans started early. Growing up, I’d eat Campbell’s pork and beans straight from the can at room temperature, and occasionally my mother would splurge and get B&M baked beans. I loved that sweet and tangy flavor, subtle from the tomato sauce in Campbell’s, more pronounced in B&M’s thanks to the molasses and vinegar.
I’ve moved on from the cans, but I still love the flavor of classic baked beans. While most recipes call for a ham hock or bacon, pork isn’t really necessary. These beans use the Italian approach, called agrodolce, literally “strong and sweet” in Italian, and it comes close to that traditional flavor.
For better beans, skip the can. While it requires some planning, dried beans taste much better than canned beans. When you cook dried beans, the broth that is generated is delicious. The slimy gel in canned beans needs to be rinsed off. I almost always cook beans in the oven. It takes longer but makes great beans without a lot of leftover cooking liquid. Heirloom bean producer Rancho Gordo has a good how-to guide, too. Cooking dried beans takes a while, but you can use that time to caramelize the onion.
I’ve made this with red beans, pintos and even garbanzos, but I like it best with some kind of white bean. Cannellini beans get soft and creamy, and they work well with the simple sauce.
3-4 cups cooked cannellini beans (1/2 pound dried beans yields about 4 cups)
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, optional
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed
While you wait for the beans, cook the onion in the olive oil over medium-low heat until dark and caramelized, for 45 to 60 minutes. Stir frequently, and if the onion starts to burn, add spoonfuls of water as needed.
Add cooked beans, honey, vinegar, sage (if using), and salt. Cook over medium-low heat for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Taste and add salt if needed.