Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Fasole boabe cu carne de porc

"Bean stew with pork"

Bean stews are a fairly world-wide concept, being both cheap and filling. Various cuisines around the continent have their own versions, the most famous probably being the opulent French cassoulet. The Romanian version is very similar and equally as tasty, although I don’t believe I’ve seen it cooked with duck. Pork is the most common meat to be used in the dish, although the form of it varies from pork sausages (carnati) to the rich smoky ham on the bone (ciolan)  - essentially you just add whatever you have to hand, whatever you can afford, or whatever you prefer.

For my bean stew I’ve used a mixture of cuts – some fatty belly of pork, some leaner neck, and a few slices of smoked rib for flavour. The belly came on the bone so I stripped it off and cut it into large chunks, but reserved the bone to add to the stew, to be fished out before serving (and probably nibbled at – chef’s privilege!).

Time: About 4 hours
Servings: Enough for 5-6 portions

500g of dried white beans
Two tablespoons of oil/fat (can be vegetable oil, pork dripping, or a mixture of olive oil and butter)
2 mediums onions, finely chopped
1 large tablespoon of tomato puree
450g of chopped tomatoes (1 can if you prefer)
A bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and bay leaves*
Chopped parsley to garnish

1. Leave the beans to soak overnight in cold water. Alternatively, put them in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover them and bring to the boil. Allow to boil for two minutes, take off the heat, cover, and leave for an hour. Either way, once soaked they should be drained and rinced.
2. Cover the beans with cold water again and very slowly bring to a gentle simmer. Check them from time to time and skip off the scum that appears on the top. Once you see no more scum is appearing, rinse them under a cold running tap for a minute or two, drain well, and put to one side.
3. In a large pan, preferably with a thick base, heat up the oil or fat and sear the meat on all sides. If you are using fatty cuts, you may want to scoop out a tablespoon or two of the resulting fat.
4. Add the chopped onion to the pan and turn the heat down and allow the onion to soften, stirring from time to time, for about 5-6 minutes.
5. Once the onion is soft and golden in colour, add the tomato puree and the chopped tomatoes and mix well with the onion/meat mixture.
6. Add the drained beans combine a little. You want to avoid stirring the dish too much otherwise you’ll end up with the beans breaking apart.
7. Pour on enough hot water that it comes to the top of the beans, maybe 5mm above them.
8. Push the bouquet garni into the middle of the dish.
9. Bring briefly to the boil and then turn the heat right down (fast boiling is another way to shatter the beans into a pulp), cover, and leave to simmer quietly until the beans are soft. Check it every 30 minutes or so, add a little liquid if it has started to dry out, and carefully stir from the bottom to stop the base burning (nothing worse that bitter little burn bits in the stew). The beans are ready when the can be easily crushed between your fingers – this could take up to two hours, depending on the heat and the age of the beans.
10. When cooked, remove the bouquet garni, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve in bowls, sprinkled with a garnish of fresh parsley.
* To make the bouquet garni, tie the leaves together in a bundle with a piece of string. Alternatively (and this is the method I prefer) get hold of one of those empty tea bags (like little pouches into which you can put loose tea leaves) and fill it with the herbs you want to use (works ok with dried herbs too) and simply tie the neck together with some string and insert into the dish you are making.

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