As an unabashed bean lover, I felt immediately drawn to Alice Waters’ recipe for Cranberry bean gratin in The Art of Simple Food. Flavorsome cranberry beans are first cooked from scratch, and later sautéed in a variety of aromatic vegetables and tomatoes. The mixture is transferred to a baking dish, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with toasty homemade breadcrumbs. After about 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven, the gratin comes out hot and bubbling slightly beneath its crispy crust. Lately I have been a bit heavy handed in the kitchen, and today I soon noticed that I had added slightly too much cooking liquid to the dish prior to baking. Though the liquid never quite cooked off completely, no one really seemed to mind seeing as how it developed into a tasty and savory broth. Waters also calls for carefully adding a bit of liquid to the gratin if it seems to be drying out in the oven, so I suppose I’ve erred in the right direction.
As the cranberry beans simmered along in their pot on the stove, I diced various humble and handy vegetables including half an onion, a carrot, a stalk of celery, and half of a large tomato. I passed a few morsels of tomato and celery along to Piper, who sat beside me enjoying her lunch as it was, but still accepting of a few goodies from Mama now and then. I heated a fair amount of olive oil in the Dutch oven and let the vegetables cook and meld while I thinly sliced several cloves of garlic and chopped some fresh sage. I really loved cooking with the sage, as it immediately released its lovely clarifying aroma and uplifted my senses in doing so. The final touch before placing the whole thing in the oven was of course a generous sprinkling of freshly toasted breadcrumbs, which I had made quickly and easily while the beans simmered. One slice of hearty bread yielded 1/2 cup of coarse breadcrumbs, which I tossed in a touch of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt (as per Waters’ instructions). I nearly forgot them in the oven, though fortunately as I remembered to pull them out I saw that my crumbs were crisp but unburned.
We ate the entire thing for dinner. Even Piper enjoyed the meal, popping bean after bean into her mouth. I love the depth of flavor and the festive feeling that came with this meal; served hot at the table and straight out of its dish, I could see myself making this gratin again as a side dish during the holidays or other get together. The fresh sage really lends a sophisticated flavor to the meal, though other fresh herbs would work as well.
I’ll continue keeping you posted on any other great recipes that I try from Waters’ book. Until the next time, have a great night!