"A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift."

Laurie Colwin

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Don't be mean with the beans, mum

It’s not heartening when you tell your husband that you’re having baked beans on toast for dinner and he counters by offering to make dinner reservations.

But OK, let’s give the man a break.  As a husband, he’s pretty new, without benefit of the common-law marriage prior to moving in, so he wasn’t to know that I wasn’t going to open up a can of Heinz’s best to dump on top of some poor unsuspecting piece of toast.

Heinz’s best, by the way, are something I despise, despite their iconic status.  No icon can take my attention away from the fact that what I’m eating is slimy, slippery, and much too sweet in altogether the wrong way.  (There is a right way for something to be too sweet – baklava, for example.  But more on this another time.)  Plus the “tomato” flavour is nothing like what a real tomato – even a tinned real tomato – tastes like.  That’s why I put together this recipe many years ago.  They’re not Boston baked beans, largely because I’m not a huge fan of the predominant molasses flavour, but they were my answer to Heinz for a daughter who really, really loved her beans on toast for breakfast and afternoon meal (she stopped eating lunch in high school and would be ravenous when she got home).  I added some brown sugar for a hint of molasses and sweetness, and went to town on the seasoning.  Who Heinz?

Back when I had a houseful of children, I would make twice the amount below and freeze leftovers in single portions in paper cups.  One of these takes about two minutes to thaw and warm through in the mikey; convenience food at its best.  Last night, we had them on beautiful sourdough rye toast and smoked cheddar, and they were still convenient.  Despite the long cooking time, during which the house was the best-smelling house on the street, dinner was on the table in a couple of minutes.

My husband wolfed down his plateful and apologised for ever doubting me.  And then I had him apologise a couple more times, just because he’s such a new husband that I can get away with this kind of thing for now.  

These baked beans don’t need the pork, and will still be delicious and sticky without it.  And by the way, if you haven’t made my beautiful sweet chilli sauce yet and are looking for a way to use the bottle of commercial stuff you still have, this is the perfect recipe for it. (Serves 6)

1 tbsp. oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, or green peppers (capsicum), finely diced
2 cups water or stock
3 tbsp. prepared mustard (I like these tablespoons to be heaped)
1 1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
1 cup tomato passata
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup sweet chili sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
4 cups cooked, but al dente, beans – I used a mixture of black turtle beans and four-bean mix (tinned are ok if you must, but rinse before using, and understand that there is a risk they will go mushy)
1 ham hock OR several bacon bones OR 250g. bacon in the piece(opt.)

What you do: 
1. Preheat oven to 160oC.  Heat oil in a frying pan. Add onions and celery or peppers, and cook for about 10 min., stirring occasionally, until onions are lightly browned
2.  While the veggies are cooking, whisk together the water or stock, mustard, salt, tomato passata and paste, sweet chili sauce, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce.
3.  Combine beans and veggies in casserole with a tight-fitting lid, and stir in sauce mixture.  Bury the ham hock, bacon bones or bacon in the middle. Cover casserole, and bake 3-4 hours, removing the lid for the last hour of cooking.  Beans should be tender, thick, and slightly sticky. You can remove bacon or ham hock and set aside for another use, or chop and add to beans.

Here are the soaked and pre-cooked beans.  They are still quite al dente.  This will prevent mushiness in the finished dish.
Yes, the sauce mixture looks Heinzey when you put it together, but it comes good in the end.

Add the sautéed veggies to the beans.  I like to let my veg catch and scorch just a bit.  It adds depth and flavour to the sauce.

Add the sauce mixture to the beans and veg.  

If using the ham hock or bone, bury it in the middle.  By the way, you're not imagining it:  this is a huge casserole.  I doubled the recipe on purpose to have leftovers to freeze in individual portions in ziploc baggies.  

By the end of the cooking time, the mixture should be thick but the beans still plenty moist, with lots of sticky, but not runny, sauce.  Remove the meat from the ham, dice finely, and mix into the beans if you like (I do, and did).

Here they are on hausbrot with smoked cheddar and spinach that will eventually wilt from the heat of the beans.
Yumbo McGillicutty!


  1. I always think back to English plays and the characters ordering beans on toast. I wondered what it was - knowing it couldn't be Heinz beans dropped on an unsuspecting piece of toast. No, it must be something akin to your glorious recipe which I would happily have for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

  2. As a lover of English literature since I was 12 or so, I know exactly what you mean. Luckily there's Jane Grigson's seminal work, English Food, to remind us what it's all about. (I've made seed cake out of that book. What's an English story written long ago without mention of tea and seed cake?)

  3. I adore beans any way I can get them..LOL. Sounds like a gorgeous recipe!! Thank you so much for linking it up at our linky party!

  4. No worries! Hope you make and enjoy them. I have a friend who, after reading this recipe, now makes them religiously once a month!


So! Whaddya reckon?