Sweet and spicy baked beans

IMG_1060 (600 x 450).jpgWe are off to the UK at the weekend for five weeks, so we’re really looking forward to that lovely moment when we step off the plane on Sunday evening into the cool climes of Birmingham Airport. I will probably be the only passenger who will be delighted if there’s a bit of summer drizzle going on. Only for ten minutes, mind you, I’ve got walks along the canal in mind, and I’m definitely a fair weather walker.

This week we are racing about like idiots, trying to finish all the last bits and pieces before we go. I think the more time you have, the more you faff about, then always end up running out of time at the last minute. I’m clearing out fridges and cleaning cupboards, while trying to simultaneously pack my suitcase and get things ready for our visitors.

We have the lovely Earl & Jeanette coming to stay in our house while we are away. They will be delighted to escape the Birmingham weather for a few weeks and, in return, they will lavish love and attention on our moggies, and keep an eye on the garden. The cats are already planning all the things they will try to convince Earl & Jeanette that they are allowed to do (‘oh yeah, Jayne and Robin alway lets us sleep on the bed and we absolutely always have caviar/lightly grilled sole for tea on Wednesdays…’) You get the idea.

This week, we’ve had rather an over-supply of beans. I went up to buy some leeks at the little market that’s held each week in our village square, and allowed myself to be convinced by the stallholder’s wife that I needed to buy some borlotti beans. She was sitting under a tree, podding them methodically, and it felt rude not to, particularly as she had done all the hard work, and I do love a borlotti bean.

We’ve now had them three times, in different forms, in as many days, and I don’t think I need to have them again this week (or possibly ever). Yesterday, there was still half a bag glaring at me from the fridge every time I opened the door, so I decided to make baked beans and give them to Linda – her turn for a bean or two, and she’s always pleased to have something lurking in her fridge for when she gets home from work in the evenings.

These are sweet, spicy and savoury all at the same time  – perfect on toast or a baked potato for a snack, or with roast chicken as a side dish.You could also brown some sausages and then put them on top of the beans for the last half hour of cooking – I did this the other evening and it was a delicious combination.

If you don’t have access to fresh beans then by all means use dried ones, soaked overnight. The beans are pre-cooked in any case, so you will end up in the same place.

Sweet and spicy baked beans

Serves 4 – 6 as a side dish

For the beans:

400g fresh borlotti (cranberry) beans, podded weight (or use 200g of any sort of dried beans – butter beans, borlotti or cannellini beans are all fine)

Flavourings for the cooking liquid:

I used a carrot, half an onion, a fennel stalk, one small stick of celery with leaves, a couple of bay leaves and a sprig each of thyme and rosemary. Just use any or all of these – do not be tempted to use a stock cube, as the salt will toughen the bean skins.

For the sauce:

Olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 ribs of celery (include leaves if there are any), finely chopped
4 rashers streaky bacon or pancetta, diced (omit if you want to keep this vegetarian)
3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 tablespoon tomato paste
125ml white or rose wine
250ml passata or thick tomato juice plus same quantity of water
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon chilli flakes
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses or black treacle (Turkish cooks – pekmez is fine)
2 tablespoons of any brand of barbecue sauce (I used HP – Worcester sauce would be OK at a push, but only add 1 tablespoon)
Chopped parley to finish


First cook the beans. Pur the shelled beans in a pan, covered with cold water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down slightly, but keep the beans on a fairly rapid boil for 10 minutes, then drain the beans in a colander, rinse them well and return them to the pan. (This helps to mitigate some of the after effects associated with bean-eating!)

Cover the beans with fresh water, add the flavourings (if using), cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and cook gently for 40 minutes to an hour or until the beans are soft. Drain the beans in a colander and discard the flavouring items.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Heat a good glug of olive oil in a saute pan which can go in the oven (if you don’t have one, you can transfer the beans to a baking dish). Add the onion, celery and bacon and fry over a medium heat until beginning to soften.

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Stir in the garlic and cook for a little longer, making sure that the garlic doesn’t go too brown. Stir in the beans, add the wine and bring to a simmer, then let the wine reduce a little.

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Add the passata or tomato juice and the same again of water, then stir in the molasses, sugar, spices and barbecue sauce. Season generously with black pepper, but don’t add any salt at this stage. Bring back to a simmer, then bake in the oven, uncovered, for around 40 minutes. Check half way through – if you think the sauce is reducing too much, just add a little more hot water. Season with salt to taste and stir through some chopped parsley before serving. The beans are also delicious served cold.

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