My very talented friend Lisa Minucci is one of my favorite people. She’s like a cultural sponge, especially when it comes to food. She’s funny, pretty and cooks like a demon. I would hate her a little if she weren’t also so nice. She’s a terrific host and awhile back she made one of the best dishes with Royal Corona beans that I’ve had. She made them in a cast iron Dutch oven in her wood oven outdoors and the final dish had a perfect dash of smokiness from the wood. The memory of the beans with the wine and the onions and the smoke still haunts me, in a good way. If you need an exact recipe, you will find Lisa’s style a little frustrating. I think most of us can easily roll with it and use Lisa’s recipe as a guide and an inspiration. Personally, this is exactly the kind of recipe I love.
Note: Dig through the pantry or fridge and find an open bottle of something sweet and sticky; maybe dark sherry or madeira or amaro or a tired sweet wine. I also call for a bottle of red wine. I’ll use any that’s open and sitting on the counter just waiting to be cooked with, like Syrah or Barbera or Nebbiolo, but Cabernet also flavors beautifully.
- 1 lb dried Rancho Gordo Royal Corona beans
- Fresh herb branch such as rosemary, oregano or thyme, to soak with the beans
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2-inch-thick hunk of pancetta or bacon
- 6 whole cipollini onions, peeled
- 1 head of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 cups tomato purée or whole tomatoes and their jus
- 1 whole dried HOT pepper such as De Arbol
- 1 generous pinch of Rancho Gordo Mixteca salt (to soften the beans)
- Coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 cup sweet sherry, amaro or madeira (see note above)
- 1 bottle red wine (see note above)
- 1 cup Harissa or chili paste for serving
- 1 cup crème fraîche or sour cream for serving
- The night before you plan to serve the dish, pour the beans into a ceramic bowl and generously cover with water. These behemoth beans will soak up lots of H2O, so ensure you’ve added plenty. Add the sprig of fresh herb to the bowl.
- The next morning, toss the beans into a colander and rinse well, discarding the herbs. In a cast-iron pot with a tight-fitting lid, pour a good glug of olive oil to sheen the bottom and lay the hunk of pancetta or bacon flat on the bottom of the pot.
- Next into the pot add the beans, onions, garlic, tomato purée or whole tomatoes and their jus, dried pepper, Mixteca salt, and half a palmful of coarsely crushed black pepper. Top with plenty of water to cover all of the goodness and cover with the lid.
- Tuck the pot into a bed of ashes near the hot coals in a fireplace or wood oven, or cook at 350 degrees in a convection oven, or 385 degrees in a regular oven. The liquid will boil and bubble, so if you’re cooking in an oven, lay a cookie sheet or piece of foil on the rack underneath to catch the inevitable drippings.
- Every hour or so, very, very carefully pull the beans from the heat (the cast iron gets SO hot!), give an extremely gentle stir, taking effort to not break the beans, and add a bit more water, keeping the beans swimming in liquor so they don’t dry out.
- Once the beans begin to soften, after about an hour or two, add the sweet sherry and about a half a bottle of red wine. Fill the remainder of the wine bottle with water, which is what you’ll add to the beans over the course of the next couple of hours to keep the pot refreshed while the beans cook. These humongous beans will need 4-6 hours to absorb most of the liquid and arrive at toothsome, depending upon the level of heat. You’ll want some liquid left in the pot to season the finished beans.
- After 4 hours, test a bean. When fully cooked, this gigantic bean will be slightly starchy. Cook them a bit longer, and their interior takes on a creamy quality. Watch to not overcook. Know that you’ll want to heat the leftover beans for lunch the following day, when the flavors have more fully integrated (and taste even better!), so don’t cook them into mushy oblivion. Take care to remove the whole hot pepper before spooning the beans into bowls.
- Serve with Harissa or chili paste and a healthy dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream to balance the heat.