Christmas Lima Beans with Porcini Mushrooms, Stelline, and Too Much Garlic
Steve Sando's book, Heirloom Beans, and his Rancho Gordo brand of organic heirloom beans have transformed my whole relationship to these little critters. In one of the cooking notes in his book, he mentions that certain beans are well-suited to being cooked with too much garlic.
These are some of those beans.
In addition, if you are in San Francisco and have the chance to cook with Dontaye Ball's artisanal bacon from Good Foods Caters with his secret sweet and smoky rub, you may never be the same again. Catch him Saturdays at Alemany Farmers Market or Sundays at Stonestown Farmers Market.
For the beans:
1/2 pound Rancho Gordo Christmas Lima beans (aka "chestnut beans")
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1 medium-to-large onion
1-2 T. crushed or finely chopped garlic (if you love garlic, this is a place to use a lot of it)
1 carrot, chopped into 1/2" dice
2 stalks celery, chopped into 1/2" dice
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 T. bacon fat (or 2 more T. extra virgin olive oil, if you prefer)
1/2 lb. browned, crispy thick-cut bacon, chopped or crumbled (or 1/2 cup diced prosciutto or ham)
Large enameled cast iron Dutch oven with fitted cover (at least a 4-quart size)
1/2 pound stelline (tiny pasta stars)
Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, to top as you like
1. SOAK BEANS
Rinse beans very well in a colander or strainer, then place in a clean bowl and cover with fresh water (by 2-3"). Allow to soak 6 hours or overnight.
Alternative Quick-Soak Method: if you are pressed for time, you can rinse the beans, cover them with boiling water, and allow to stand for one hour. If you use this quick-soak method, be sure to drain the beans after soaking and start with fresh water for cooking.
2. SOAK PORCINI
Place dried porcini in a bowl and pour on boiling water to cover. Allow to stand for an hour or more. Carefully remove the plumped mushrooms from the liquid, disturbing it as little as possible, and rinse the mushrooms to remove any remaining dirt or grit. Chop finely and set aside. Strain soaking liquid through a paper towel or coffee filter and set aside.
3. PREHEAT OVEN
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
4. SAUTE VEGGIES & MEAT
Heat olive oil and bacon fat over medium heat in a large (4-quart or larger) enameled cast iron Dutch oven. Sauté onion and garlic until soft, then add chopped carrot and celery. Stir to coat with oil, then add bacon, porcini, and porcini soaking liquid. Stir well.
5. ADD BEANS & WATER
Pour the beans and their soaking liquid (or drained beans and fresh water) into the pot and add fresh water to cover the mixture by about 2 inches. Raise heat and bring to a boil.
6. COVER & PLACE IN OVEN
Turn off the flame under the beans, put the cover on the pot, and place the covered pot into the oven. Cook for 2-3 hours or until beans are tender. Check occasionally to make sure everybody remains covered by enough liquid.
7. COOK THE PASTA
When you are ready to serve, cook the stelline al dente according to the package instructions (generally about 8 minutes but your actual mileage may vary).
8. REMOVE FROM OVEN & SEASON TO TASTE
Remove the Dutch oven to the stovetop and season to taste with salt and pepper. The beans will be plump and the pot liquor will be fragrant with garlic and porcini. Ladle out about a cup of beans and liquid and allow to cool briefly. Purée and stir back into the pot to give the stew a nice thick body.
9. TO SERVE
In a wide, shallow soup plate, pile a nice-looking mound of stelline in the center, then ladle beans and their sauce on top and all around. Serve with fresh parmesan.