Kitchen Witch - Bean there, done that

White bean and fennel stew

Spring can really hang you up, especially with the climate roller coaster of recent weeks. One day, it’s 80 degrees, outdoor cocktail-sipping weather. The next day, it’s chilly winds, requiring the warm protection of both turtlenecks and a hot lunch.

In pursuit of a dish that would accommodate such meteorological mood swings, I opted for a pot of white beans. I figured this was an opportunity to illustrate the ease and simplicity of cooking with dried beans.

Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. I screwed up. I made a nasty mess of beans that took forever to cook without ever reaching complete tenderness. Upon noticing the bean’s recalcitrance, I got frustrated and kept the beans going and going ... until five hours had passed and there was a pot of mush that smelled like the school cafeteria.

Not until I repeated the recipe using canned beans did I realize my enormous boo-boo.

I neglected to give my beans some “alone time” and instead cooked them with the other ingredients. This is problematic because beans need to cook alone in order to thoroughly cook, which should take about 90 minutes. If other ingredients are floating around in the pot, the beans never get a chance to move beyond gummy goop.

So, do as I say and not as I do. Cook your beans alone first. With the recipe below, I promise you’ll get a bright dish that shouts from the bowl that spring is almost here.

White Bean and Fennel Stew

Inspired by Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson

1 1/2 cups dried or one 15-ounce can of beans (cannellini,

Great Northern or navy beans)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 medium carrots, peeled, cut in half and sliced into

thin half-moons

2 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped

1 fennel bulb, trimmed of green fronds and thinly sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup white wine

About 1 cup of liquid, any combination of the following:

water, vegetable stock, juice of an orange

1/2 cup tomato puree

Zest of one orange

2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

• If using dried beans, pour into a soup pot and cover with water. Soak for at least four hours. Drain and add enough water (about 3 cups) to cover beans. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook until al dente, at least 90 minutes. Drain, set aside and add about 1/2 teaspoon salt.

If using canned beans, drain in a colander and rinse well. Set aside. Do not salt.

• Towel-dry the inside of the pot and add olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, garlic, fennel and pepper. Cook until soft (about five minutes). Add wine and allow it to reduce by half (about five minutes).

• Add beans and stir to coat with vegetables. Add liquid, just enough to cover the beans. Add tomato puree. Bring to a boil.

R• educe heat, cover and cook at a simmer, until beans are tender (45 minutes to one hour). Add more liquid as necessary, particularly if beans get too dry. During the last few minutes of cooking, add orange zest and rosemary. Salt to taste.

• Makes at least six servings, as a side dish. (Less if eaten as main course.)

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at