My email inbox is often full of surprises. Sure there are the requests to pimp out products, and hey, have you heard blah blah blah is happening, and hey can I advertise on your site, and so on and so forth. Then there is the really good stuff, like when sweet strangers comment on a recipe, and when I was offered a job doing this, and when I was invited to go here, and when a classmate from over 30 years ago (I'm old, okay) dropped me a line to say hi, because she saw me making these on TV. And then there was the biggie, the email that pretty much took my breath away, the one thing I still think about almost every day. Email. Almost like Christmas morning. Almost. So you can imagine my delight when I received an email from Ali at Ten Speed Press wondering if I would like a review copy of The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook to check out. Yes! Please!
When I first started writing my food blog, just 20 months ago, I knew very little about other blogs. I had jumped into Food Blog Land without a real point of reference. Then I did a little digging, to see what others were cooking and writing about and photographing, and it didn't take long for me to come upon The Sprouted Kitchen - a whole foods-focused blog. I was immediately smitten with Sara's relaxed, yet captivating writing, like it was that of a good friend, and Hugh's stunning photographs, which leap off the page and make you want to eat...and eat some more of whatever Sara is cooking. Using fresh and seasonal ingredients, Sara's cooking philosophy mirrors my own: research what foods are in season in your area, and discover which markets sell them and you will be certain to make good food because you started with good food. And just like that I was in love with their blog. The same thing happened the day the courier dropped off The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook - 242 beautiful pages of recipes I want to cook: ranchero breakfast tostadas; tuscan kale chopped salad; lentil meatballs with lemon pesto; grilled flatbreads with pear, arugula, and goat cheese; honey almond butter; strawberry and leek quesadilla; grilled zucchini roll-ups; roasted plum tartines; and flourless chocolate-banana pudding cakes with cinnamon cream, to name but a few. Sara's recipes are inventive yet approachable; nutritious and delicious. Hugh's photography is just utterly lovely - exactly what I want a book of recipes to look like. Whether I'm making soup for myself, or feeding a group of hungry loved ones, The Sprouted Kitchen will be opened many a time, in my little green kitchen.
Many recipes jumped off the page at me, but the Braised White Beans and Leeks was the one that pulled me in. I know! I chose beans over chocolate! Crazy town, but not really. I had a bunch of leeks hanging out in the fridge, needing a purpose. I could have made this soup again, but then I saw the beans. Perfect. With the weather dipping into cooler territory, a little comfort food was called to order. I think it was the bubbling cheese crust which was the clincher. And rightly so. While the beans were tender and brothy, and the bacon and leeks upped the flavour factor, I was in love when the melted mozzarella pulled it all together. This is a simple, comforting dish, easily made on a lazy Sunday afternoon, with delicious leftovers at the ready for the week ahead. It's a pot of goodness you want in your life. You can easily omit the bacon - that's okay, we can still be friends. Don't eat cheese? Sprinkle some toasted breadcrumbs and drizzle good olive oil instead. Beans love olive oil. Truly.
So let's go! Sara's recipe called for one pound of dried cannellini beans, which for whatever reason are super hard to find here in Saskatoon. I substituted Great Northern, and they turned out excellent. Rinse and pick over your dried beans well, then place in a large bowl and cover with plenty of fresh, cold water. Let them sit on the counter overnight. Drain, rinse again, and set aside. Chop leeks, celery, plenty of garlic cook with a little olive oil (I added butter too) then cover with broth. Bring to a boil, then place in your oven, so they can cook low and slow for a couple of hours while you wash your car or clean your eaves troughs (yes mom, I will do mine!) or bathe the dogs (or yourself), or whatever else your Sunday afternoon looks like.
While the recipe said the beans take about 3 hours to cook, after checking in at a little over an hour, they were almost done. (I had soaked them for 12 hours, so that may be it) If you aren't sure if a bean is cooked, it's not. I still had lots of broth, so I took the lid off to reduce some of the liquid, tossed in some chopped bacon, gave it a good stir and let them cook about half hour longer. Next came the cheese, cranked up the oven temp and cooked until the cheesy lid was golden brown. My house smelled like heaven.
The beans were ladled out, drizzled with good olive oil, and made a lovely lunch, just on their own. Add a salad and you have a delicious light supper; add a roast meat and they are an excellent side dish. I froze the leftover beans thinking they will make a fantastic dip, once they go into the food processor with more olive oil and lemon juice. Spread on crostini, they are an appetizer waiting to happen. Or a simple snack, to keep you company while you check out your new favourite cookbook. While I did receive a copy of this book to review, the enthusiasm is all mine. Thank you Sara and Hugh - job well done.
Braised White Beans and Leeks
The only change I made to Sara's recipe was to add a bit of butter when the vegetables are cooking. Leeks love butter. If you don't have herbes de Provence handy, substitute dried rosemary or thyme or a little fennel seed too.
1 pound dried white runner or cannellini or Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked over (I used a 500 gram package of beans.)
3 large leeks
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 celery stalks, diced
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp herbes de Provence
1/2 to 1 tsp red pepper flakes
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
4 cup low sodium vegetable broth
1/2 - 3/4 cup crispy crumbled bacon
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
olive oil, for garnish
chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Soak the beans, uncovered, in a large bowl of cold water on the counter for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. Drain and set aside.
Arrange a rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat to 225*F (I had set my temp by accident to 250*F, which again, may have quickened the cooking time.)
Trim the leeks, discarding the tough green tops, halve vertically and rinse well in cold water, making sure to clean out any dirt trapped between the layers. Slice into thin half circles. In a large Dutch oven, or ovenproof casserole over medium heat, warm the olive oil and butter. Add the celery, garlic and leeks and cook until the vegetables are softened, 3-5 minutes.
Add the beans, thyme, herbes de Provence, red pepper flakes to taste, 1/4 tsp salt and a generous amount of black pepper. Stir in the vegetable broth and 1/2 cup water and bring the mixture back up to a gentle boil. Cover the pot with an ovenproof lid or cover it tightly with foil. Place in the oven and cook, checking occasionally to make sure the pot is never dry, until the beans are soft throughout but not falling apart, 3 to 3 1/2 hours. If the pot seems dry, add water in 1/2 cup increments and stir once or twice more. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if necessary. Again, my beans seemed fully cooked after 80 minutes, then I added the bacon and removed the lid because I had lots of liquid. I added the cheese after almost two hours.)
Remove pot from oven and turn the heat up to 500*F. Sprinkle the mozzarella and Parmesan on top of the bean mixture and put back in oven, leaving the lid off. Cook until cheese is completely melted and brown in spots, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve hot. Serves 6-8.
Recipe reprinted with permission from The Sprouted Kitchen by Sara Forte, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photo credit: Hugh Forte © 2012.