Saturday, February 5, 2011

Arikara Beans with Roasted Fennel and Peppers

These Arikara beans from Lonesome Whistle Farm were cultivated by the Dakota Arikara Native Americans and provided sustenance for Lewis and Clark during their Voyage of Discovery. Thomas Jefferson grew them at Monticello, and described them as "one of the most excellent we have had." I had a hankering for roasted fennel, and I thought these creamy beans would make a most excellent accompaniment. 

Rather than discard the fennel fronds, I decided to add them to the bean pot and allow them to infuse the beans as they simmered. I've been cooking dried beans in a slow cooker without any presoaking with excellent results. These ones were tender but still firm after three hours.

I had a red pepper, which I decided to roast along with the fennel bulb for additional caramelized flavor. I tossed these in a generous amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted them in a hot oven, making sure to stir occasionally once they started to brown. Meanwhile, I drained about 4 cups of the fennel-infused Arikara beans, reserving the remaining beans and broth for another use.

I removed the pan from the oven when the fennel and peppers were beginning to char and immediately tossed in the beans so that they became coated in the hot oil and caramelized juices of the vegetables.

These beans, with their subtle fennel flavor contrasting with the bold, caramelized vegetable chunks, were a delicious accompaniment to some Salmon People salmon, stashed away from last summer's market, seared  in a hot skillet and finished in the oven.

Arikara Beans with Roasted Fennel and Peppers

2 cups (1 lb) Arikara beans rinsed, or substitute small white kidney beans
4 cups water
1 fennel bulb
1 red pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Rinse the fennel bulb and cut off the fronds. Combine the beans and water, layer on the fennel fronds in a slow cooker, and cook on low for about 3 hour until the beans are soft but still firm. The beans can also be cooked on the stovetop, but would require less time and may need more water. When they are cooked, remove the fennel fronds and salt generously. Strain about 4 cups of cooked beans, reserving the remain 2 cups and the bean liquid for another use.

2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the fennel bulb and red pepper into smaller chunks. Toss in a large ovenproof pan with the olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes. When the vegetables are soft, caramelized, and starting to char, remove the pan from the oven and immediate stir in the 4 cups of drained beans, scraping the bottom of the pan to mix in all of the caramelized vegetable bits.

Other recipes for heirloom beans:
Jacob's Cattle bean and ham stew
Calypso beans with ginger and black mustard seeds
Ireland Creek Annie bean bruschetta
Lemon and herb Dutch bullet beans
Minty green flageolet beans
Dutch bullet beans and roasted squash soup
Rio Zape beans with toasted chile sauce
Arikara bean gratin
Calypso bean and leek soup

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