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Colu Henry is Happy to be the Bean Girl

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A self-proclaimed, “proud member of the Rancho Gordo Bean Club”, author of Back Pocket Pasta, and New York Times Food Contributor, Colu Henry is unapologetic about her love of legumes. No, this is not some recipe writer’s bandwagon-hopping pandemic pivot. Back in early March, before all hell broke loose here, I got Colu on the phone to see if, maybe, she had some sage cooking advice to share for the launch of our website. After a brief mention of roasting a chicken every week (a very good practice), she was going on about beans. Colu has impeccable taste in food, friends and fashion, so if she says beans are having a moment, we’re here for it. 

Photo: Colu Henry

Photo: Colu Henry

CH: I’m probably 50/50 on whether I’m going to open a can, or actually make dried beans, and I usually cook them in the Instant Pot if I’m doing dried. Please make an argument for why it’s worth cooking them on the stove.
I love the act of making a pot of beans. Having something that you soak overnight, and then you slow-cook the next day, is methodical and sort of meditative to me.  The texture of a dry bean is just so much better than what you get in a can. Plus, the liquid that you’re cooking it in is literally so delicious. I’m just crazy about it.

CS: So I’ve committed to a bag of dried white beans. What now? 

CH: Cover them with an inch or two of salty water (use a couple tablespoons of kosher salt), and then don’t drain them. I just literally cook them in the water that they sat in overnight. I love putting in a ton of garlic. If there are some herbs lurking about that need to be used, I’ll put those in there. It changes based on whatever needs to go. And I usually do a couple tablespoons of olive oil, and then I just simmer them super slowly for a couple of hours and I taste them frequently.

CS: How do you know when they are done?

CH: My friend Tamar Adler says, If you taste four beans out of the pot and they’re all ready to go, then the beans are done.

CS: So what do we do with these glorious beans and their liquor? 

CH:  For a work from home lunch, toast a piece of bread, and spoon them on top. Sometimes I just put them in a big mug, and shave on some Parmesan cheese, top with fresh pepper, a little bit of olive oil, and just eat them with a spoon.

CS: What else can we do to dress them up?

CH: I’m making chili oil on the regular. And I wrote this beans with herb oil recipe for the New York Times, that i’m really excited about. Also, pickled chilies. 

CS: Yum. What if we’d like our beans to play a supporting role?

CH: A piece of fish takes 10 minutes in the oven. And you can have a pot of beans already made, and herb oil in the fridge; that’s going to be a beautiful dinner. Add a loaf of bread, and you’re all set.

Photo: Colu Henry

If you really want to nerd on out on some supremely delicious heirloom beans, here’s a list of Colu’s faves.

Christmas Lima

Nutty and delicious.  If you think you don’t like limas, this will prove you wrong.

Marcella Bean

Named for Marcella Hazan, the cookbook author who brought Italian cooking into American kitchens, this is a thin-skinned white cannellini.

Royal Corona

Don’t let the unfortunate name turn you off. Big, white, and creamy, they are perfect in bean salads or tomatoey sauce. 

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