Magic Beans

Not magic in the way of Jack and the Beanstalk but versatile, pleasing, dependable – real life magic. Magic as comfort.

Part of the complexity of a big holiday comes not just from the Big Meal event – but also from the gathering and cooking for the other nights and days. We need to eat in the lead-up days, and no matter the evening feast on Thursday, visitors arriving on Wednesday need a welcoming dinner and lunch the next day.

The weekend before, I cooked beans, white and black. With some of the white beans I made ahead a delicious Deborah recipe “Basque Pumpkin with White Bean Soup” (a festive orange color, flavored by stock from the pumpkin peelings and seeds).

Since I loved that eggplant gratin, I noticed a “White Bean and Celery Root Gratin, Tuscan Style” in Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” That seemed to meet a lot of needs – remind us of Italy but also be seasonal and local.

Celeriac with its gnarly weirdness is a vegetable I approach with a little reluctance – not nearly so beautiful as an eggplant, but so much more likely to grow here. They’re a winter mainstay, as they must be in Italy.

The outer skin looks challenging but trims off easily (Deborah says to scrub it well and use in stock for its delicious flavor). For the gratin, cut the remaining white root into one-inch cubes.

In a pan with plenty of room, sauté the celery root in three tablespoons of olive oil until it begins to brown. (This recipe double easily and then fills a big gratin dish.) Add one chopped onion, salt and pepper. Cook until the onion and celery root are soft.

Add two garlic cloves, chopped, three cups of cooked beans. If it seems too dry, you can add some reserved bean liquid. Flavor with fresh rosemary or sage (another reason this is perfect for winter Washington – plenty of both).

Top with a half cup of breadcrumbs mixed with a little olive oil or Parmesan cheese. Pour into a gratin dish rubbed with oil and bake at 400° for about an hour – till the gratin is bubbling and topping browned.

I put it together before we drove to the ferry to pick people up – and once home, the gratin was soon fragrant and ready for dinner by the fire, bubbling and browned in its bright red dish.

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