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Rancho Gordo's New Cookbook: Get Cheap and Chic With Two Bean Stews

If anyone has made beans a cool commodity, it's Rancho Gordo, the heirloom bean company owned by Steve Sando. Sando recently co-authored a cookbook called Heirloom Beans (Chronicle, 2008) and here are some of our favorite recipes from it. Get out the Le Crueset: Winter's on.

Bean Stew with Herb Pesto

Almost weekly I get a call from the famous Blue Hill Restaurant at Stone Barns in New York. Chef and owner Dan Barber or chef and kitchen director Adam Kaye will want to discuss beans, quinoa, popcorn, or whatever else they might have on their minds. I can talk beans for hours, and Dan and Adam are either really interested or too polite to tell me to be quiet. Stone Barns not only houses the restaurant, but is also a working farm and an educational center. Most of the greens and herbs used in this recipe would typically come straight off the farm and go into Chef Barber’s kitchen.  This recipe provides extra pesto, which is wonderful stirred into soups, pasta dishes, or bean salads.

Serves 4

2 thyme sprigs
2 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 2 or 3 pieces
1/2 celery stalk, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
1/2 medium yellow onion, quartered
1/4 medium fennel bulb
One 3- to 4-ounce piece of pancetta
1 pound yellow eye, vaquero, marrow, or white runner beans, soaked and drained
3 cups homemade or purchased chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Pesto
4 cornichons
2 teaspoons capers
3/4 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 soft-cooked egg
1 oil-packed anchovy fillet
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups arugula leaves, roughly chopped
2 cups spinach leaves, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh chervil leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh tarragon leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves for garnishing
1 tablespoon chopped parsley for garnishing

Put the thyme sprigs, parsley sprigs, and bay leaf on a piece of cheesecloth, gather the corners, and tie the bundle securely.

In a soup pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the carrot, celery, onion, fennel, and pancetta and sauté until the vegetables begin to soften and caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add the beans, cheesecloth bundle, broth, and enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a simmer and season with salt and pepper. Cook uncovered until the beans are just tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Transfer the beans and their broth to a large bowl and let cool. Remove the vegetables, pancetta, and cheesecloth bundle, and discard. Drain the beans, reserving the broth.

Make the pesto: Put the cornichons, capers, mustard, garlic, egg, and anchovy in a blender. With the motor running, slowly add the oil until it is completely incorporated. Add the arugula, spinach, chervil, and 1/2 cup tarragon. Purée until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Put the beans and the reserved 1 cup broth in a medium saucepan and warm gently over medium heat. Add about 1 cup of the pesto and stir to incorporate, making sure not to let the stew boil. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Ladle the stew into warmed bowls and garnish with the tarragon and parsley.

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Yellow Eye Chowder with Smoked Chicken, Sweet Potatoes, and Sage

Yellow eye beans have a neutral yet earthy flavor and a crumbly texture when cooked, making them naturals for chowder. Sage has a warming flavor that pairs beautifully with any sweet vegetable.  Add smoky chicken and you have a hearty soup that is perfect for cold-weather eating.  Serve this soup with your favorite artisan bread and a salad of beets, oranges, and spinach for a winter meal.

Serves 6 to 8

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound yellow eye or calypso beans, soaked
2 small garnet sweet potatoes, cut into 1/3-inch dice
1/2 pound smoked chicken, shredded
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnishing

In a soup pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, celery, and garlic and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add the beans and their soaking water, and enough additional cold water to cover the beans by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, cover partially, and simmer until the beans are just starting to soften but are still be fairly firm, about 1 hour.

Add the sweet potatoes, chicken, sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender but not falling apart, about 20 minutes. Ladle the chowder into warmed bowls and garnish with chopped parsley.