Yes, it was a good afternoon.
A bit posh, you might think, afternoon tea in the Westbury, and, to be fair, it was a step up from having a dirty ol’ mug o’ tae in one hand and plate of chocolate digestives in the other. The occasion was a special food blogger launch of Donal Skehan’s new book, Kitchen Hero.
Despite the posh surroundings, it was a warm, friendly and, at times, noisy occasion that stretched well past the nominal afternoon time slot. The enjoyable sweet and savoury spread was one which the Westbury have added to their afternoon tea collection, based on recipes from Donal’s book.
And the book, which presents more of Donal’s simple you-can-do-it-too style of home cooking, was, of course, a big part of the proceedings. It’s very much aimed at encouraging the reluctant and/or inexperienced cook into the kitchen, and Donal’s charm and enthusiasm (coming soon to the small screen in a new RTE television series) are the key ingredients. While the book may not break much in the way of new ground for the more experienced cook, it might just provide a few tasty reminders that, when it comes to cooking, simple is good.
White Beans In Tomato Sauce
One of the recipes that caught my eye in Donal’s new book was for “proper beans on toast”. Actually, it was not so much the recipe per se, as the reminder of how easy it is to make a simple white bean and tomato sauce to go with some crusty toasted bread
So I borrowed the idea and made my own. While Donal’s sauce uses red wine and Worcestershire sauce, this one, with fennel and smoked paprika, has a more Mediterranean feel. It would be equally at home on a bed of pasta as on hot buttered toast.
You can really use any small to medium-sized white beans for this – haricot (or navy) beans, cannellini or white kidney beans. You could even use larger butter beans if you like. It’s easiest, of course, to used tinned beans, though I do prefer the results when they’re cooked from dried.
As for the vodka, I would have to admit that I’m quite fond of adding it to tomato sauce. It helps to release alcohol-soluble flavours in the tomatoes and seems to bring out a natural sweetness. You can skip it if you prefer and you might also like to add a little sugar to the sauce, depending on the acidity of the tomatoes.
- 100g dried haricot, cannellini or white kidney beans, soaked overnight (or use the quick-soak method, see right) or use 1 x 400g tin cannellini beans
- olive oil for frying
- 1 medium onion, approx. 150g, finely chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 0.25 tsp fennel seeds
- 0.5 tsp cumin seeds
- 0.5 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tblsp tomato purée
- 1 x 400g tin tomatoes, chopped
- 0.5 tsp salt or to taste
- 2 tblsp vodka (optional)
- freshly ground black pepper
- chopped fresh basil to garnish (optional)
- grated parmesan to garnish (optional)
- If using dried beans and you haven’t had time enough to soak them overnight, you can quick-soak them as follows: cover with several inches of cold water, bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to soak for at least an hour in the heated water.
- Drain the soaked beans, put into a heavy saucepan with about 1 litre of fresh water. Bring up to the boil, then simmer, partially covered, for about 1.5 hours or until the beans are tender. Alternatively, if you have a pressure cooker, they’ll only need about 10-12 minutes of cooking once they’ve been brought up to pressure.
- If using tinned beans, just drain and rinse them.
- Place a large pan over a medium heat. When hot, add enough oil to coat the pan.
- Add the onions to the pan. Stir and fry for around 4-5 minutes, until they start to soften. Add the garlic and stir and fry for about a minute more.
- Lightly crush the fennel and cumin seeds and add to the pan along with smoked paprika. Stir briefly then add the tomato purée and stir to mix.
- Add the tinned tomatoes, salt and vodka (if using). Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes.
- Add the beans, bring back to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes more. Add black pepper and additional salt to taste. Serve on toast if you like or as a sauce for pasta, with chopped basil leaves and some grated parmesan if you fancy.
- You could certainly add some chorizo or other cooked sausage to this if you were that way inclined.
- Makes 2 generous helpings