While I’m typing this I’m also clarifying a kilo of butter, so if I disappear from time to time, that’s where I’ve gone.
Some years ago a veggie friend was given a huge amount of runner beans. Not being one of nature’s cooks, she passed them on to me. I made a casserole with them, and passed a few portions back. This went on for a while, and then supplies dried up.
Then we got to talking about it, recently, and I realised I no longer had a copy of the recipe – odd as I have my own recipes going back to when when I was first married, and persuaded to write down my recipes – which, until then, lived only in my head. I knew I’d emailed my friend a copy of it but, for reasons too complicated to explain, it, too, had been deleted.
And – surprisingly – I had absolutely no recollection of it, which is plain weird as my head is stuffed with recipes, going back more years than I care to remember – but the runner bean casserole is gone. All I can say for sure is that it contained runner beans and home-made passata (not actually worth the effort unless you have really good, home-grown, toms but what the hell, I like to do new stuff).
I’ve set out to recreate it several times over the past few months, but the quality of the Kenyan runner beans has been abysmal. They looked as if they’d been sprayed with tar and the last lot was full of dead spiders, and were quickly bagged and binned lest they weren’t all dead!
Fast forward to last week, and Tesco had “stringless beans” on offer, so I snagged a couple of packs and they turned out to be stringless runner beans. Young runner beans – which these were – are naturally stringless, but mature ones are not, but the strings are a bugger to remove as they break. So a note for the future – in Tescoworld, stringless beans = immature runner beans. Not, I hasten to add, a bad thing – they get chewy and stringy with age.
Two days ago, there being no prospect of any rest in this building, I decided I might as well cook. It’s undergoing major refurbishment while still occupied, which is about as purgatorial as it sound, and the first casualty – it started on Monday – is already in hospital. My only surprise is that it’s not me.
So I found my workbook which, if you cook, or bake, and like to develop your own recipes, is essential to keep a record of what you did, where it went wrong and/or where it can be improved next time.
But, as it turned out, even though the only resemblance between the new recipe and the old one is that both have runner beans and passata (bought this time, Napolina brand**), the new recipe tastes way better than the original.
**If you wonder why Napolina features so heavily in my recipes, it’s quite simple – the quality is excellent. If you doubt it, buy a can each of Napolina and Tesco cannellini beans and see which one winds up in the bin.
But I digress – hey! – it’s hardly unknown, so before I wander off again, this is the recipe.
500g Runner beans, topped, tailed, and de-stringed, cut into bite-sized pieces (2 packs Tesco stringless = 550g)
4 medium Echalion shallots, chopped**
2 medium cooking onions, chopped**
2 or 3 slices of celeriac (depending on the size of the root), trimmed and diced
2 long, sweet, red peppers, usually labelled Romano or, at Tesco, Ramiro – they’re the same peppers – deseeded and cut into postage-stamp sized pieces. If you have the time and the inclination, you can grill till charred and skin them first.
2 500g packs Napolina passata
2 bushy sprigs of Rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped
A good knob of butter, preferably clarified***
A generous splash of olive oil
2 level teaspoons Golden caster sugar (Golden caster is my default sugar, but use whatever you have)
½ teaspoon celery salt
Deglet Nour organic dates, about 20, each cut into 3 pieces (if using a bigger date, reduce the quantity and increase the pieces accordingly)
2 Kallo organic vegetable cubes
1 rounded teaspoon Marigold bouillon powder, or to taste
Maldon sea salt and black pepper, to taste
**In a casserole I cut alliums larger than I would for soup, about a centimetre square, so they form part of the whole rather than skulk at the bottom of the bowl – they do have a role as a vegetable, not just as an aromatic to be otherwise overlooked.
*** The difference between clarified and unclarified butter has to be experienced to be believed. Melted, it’s clear, golden, and unless you’re terminally dumb, almost impossible to burn. Mixed with olive oil (which makes it harder to burn unclarified butter), it makes an excellent, and tasty, medium for frying fish or, in this case, for sweating off the alliums.
Why President brand? Simple, it’s Normandy butter and, for a mass-produced butter, it tastes very good. A lot of people don’t like the faintly cheesy edge that some French butter can have, but I like it (I don’t do bland, and most butter in the UK defines the word!).
A caveat – carrots and other root veg take an absurdly long time to cook with tomatoes, so add the passata once they’re soft (or to your preferred texture, anyway). Personally, I can’t abide crunchy veg, especially the restaurant habit of dunking shredded cabbage in boiling water for a few seconds, and calling it cooked. Pretentious tossers!
Anyway, on with the show.
Sweat the alliums in the butter and oil until soft and golden, but not browned, then add the stock cubes, dissolved in a little boiling water, plus the carrots, celeriac and rosemary. Add enough boiling water to cover, bring back to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the carrots are getting soft but still have a little crunch, then add everything else except the salt, pepper, and Marigold.
Add more boiling water to just cover (and I do mean just – these quantities will not quite fill a 3-litre casserole), stir well, return to the boil and simmer until everything is tender.
Note: Quite a lot of the passata clings to the inside of the cartons, so set aside for a while and it’ll run down to the bottom. Pour in a little hot water, swirl, and add to the pot (allow for this when adding the water, above).
If you accidentally add too much water, cook it for a while uncovered (turn up the heat to compensate), which will reduce the volume and enhance the flavour.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool before checking the taste and seasoning, and adding salt, pepper and, maybe, Marigold to your taste.
When cool, refrigerate overnight to allow the flavours to snuggle up and get to know each other in the dark. It makes a big difference.
And if fruit in a savoury recipe is new to you, bear in mind that the tomato is a fruit. In addition adding fruit to meat dishes is a tradition that goes back centuries, but there are just a few surviving vestiges today, like the Christmas mincemeat. It no longer contains actual meat – you have to go to the US for that, apparently – but it still has suet, even though that can be the veggie variety these days (when I wanted to buy beef suet at Christmas I found it impossible – wtf is going on?), along with cranberry sauce with turkey or redcurrant jelly/sauce with lamb or venison.
Black olives – yep, they’re fruit, too – go well in a beef or game stew, as do cherries, both sweet and sour.