I always keep my pantry well stocked with tins of Heinz baked beans. I’ve eaten them since I was a child and now my son eats them as well – it’s one of the few things he likes to ‘cook’ for himself. I know it’s not really cooking but he gives him a nice sense of food autonomy, heating up the beans and eating them straight from the pan (for a greater sense of cowboy authenticity I presume)
As great as Mr Heinz’s beans are, nothing compares with a big pot of homemade baked beans. Even my son loves these homemade beans and he is probably a bigger fan of the Mr Heinz version than I am. I like to make these beans on the weekend and have them for Sunday dinner. Sometimes I just serve them simply with a salad and some crusty bread or I might make a bit more of a ‘brinner’ (breakfast for dinner for those not in the know) and serve them with eggs, baked mushrooms and other breakfast-y accompaniments. In America, baked beans are a traditional side dish at fourth of July barbecues. The thought of serving baked beans at barbecue in the middle of our intemperate summers doesn’t quite work for me but I think they would go excellently as a side for a barbie in the cooler months.
I’ve made a lot of different variations of baked beans over the years, but this recipe is my vegetarian adaptation of a Maggie Beer recipe for Boston baked beans. Instead of pork belly, I make a sofrito of carrot, celery, onion and garlic, which is slowly cooked down to dense nuggets of flavour and then add some smoked paprika. I used to sweeten my beans with maple syrup but I really love the sweet/tart combination of the molasses and brown sugar, counterbalanced with red wine vinegar. The molasses also give the beans that dark rich color. I also pre-cook the beans by simmering in water until just tender, before baking them in a slow oven for a few hours. Once the beans are in the tomato sauce, it’s almost impossible to overcook them and you can slow bake them for hours until they are mellow and melting-ly delicious. They are even better if you allow them to cool down in the pot and eat them the next day.
This may seem like a bit of trouble for a pot of beans, but it’s not like you’re slaving over them for all that time – it’s all about allowing time for the beans to temper and meld with the sauce. Homemade baked beans are like the ultimate slow food, which gives this humble dish a luxurious quality in this day and age. This recipe makes a huge pot of beans but they keep well in the fridge for a week and they freeze excellently, so you can have them on hand for your BIG Sunday morning brekkie, bake some corn bread and have them for dinner or, like the Americans, have them as a side dish at your winter barbecue.
Vegetarian Boston baked beans
Adapted from Maggie Beer’s A Barossa Food Tradition
- 500 grams (1.1 pounds) white beans, soaked overnight
- 3 tablespoons of light olive oil
- 2 medium onions chopped finely
- 3 carrots chopped finely
- 2–3 stalks of celery, chopped finely
- 4–6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 x 400 grams (14 ounce) cans of tomato, pureed
- 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons powdered mustard (I use Keen’s Mustard because I love the tin!)
- ¼ cup of brown sugar
- ¼ cup molasses (Blackstrap molasses if you are in America)
- ¼ cup aged red wine vinegar
- 1 bay leaf
- A few sprigs of thyme
- 1 tablespoon of finely chopped mint (optional)
- Drain and rinse beans, place in large pan and cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer very slowly for about 45 minutes until just tender (white beans are quite delicate, so be careful not to cook them too quickly or they will fall apart).
- Drain and let cool.
- Preheat fan forced oven to 140°C (285°F).
- Mix mustard with 1 tablespoon of water, then add sugar and molasses and stir until smooth.
- Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven and saute onion, carrot and celery for about 15 minutes until it has reduced and softened. Add garlic and saute for another 5 minutes, finally add paprika and saute until fragrant.
- Add tomato puree, mustard and molasses mixture, bay leaf and thyme to sofrito and stir until combined.
- Add beans and just enough water to make a nice stew. Bake for 1½ to 2 hours, checking every now and then to see if the beans need water to be added. Depending on the age of the beans, it can take up to four hours for the beans to become melting, tender and soft.
- Add red wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Bake for another ½ hour before serving. Taste and add more seasonings if required. If beans are too sweet, add some extra red wine vinegar. If the beans are too soupy, turn up the oven to 160°C and bake with the lid off until the sauce has thickened.
- Just before serving add mint and stir through.
Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free (if gluten-free, vinegar is used)