Bean Pot Cooking
We all know beans are one of the healthiest foods we can eat. They are also one of the cheapest and, when cooked well, one of the most most satisfying things, too. But it's not necessarily something we want to do at the end of a long work day, unless we have planned ahead. A clay cooker can help. If you work at home, start the beans in the morning. If not, prepare them over the weekend and they'll be ready for Monday night's dinner.
In Sonoma County, several farmers grow delicious dried beans, available at farmers markets and farm stands. Rancho Gordo, located in Napa, has an extraordinary selection, available in many local stores and nationwide by mail order. I used pinto beans in most recent batch of clay pot beans, which I am still eating. They are absolutely delicious.
One of my favorite bean pots, from Bram Cookware, on the east side of the town square in Sonoma.
Put the beans in a colander, rinse under cool running water, and remove any rocks or other hitchhikers.
Put the beans into a 3 to 3 1/2 quart clay pot, add the onion, bay leaves, and ham hock and enough water to nearly fill the pot.
Set on a diffuser that is set over medium-low heat and slowly warm the pot. When the pot is completely warm, increase the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low so that the beans simmer very gently.
When the beans have begun to soften and are giving off their aroma, season fairly generously with salt.
Continue to cook slowly until most of the water is absorbed, the beans are completely tender, and the meat is falling off the bone. Add water as needed to keep the beans from drying out or burning.
Use tongs to remove the ham hock. Discard the bones, chop or pull apart the meat, and stir it back into the beans. Taste and correct for salt.
At this point, the beans can be held for several hours over very low heat. When ready to serve, ladle into soup bowls or soup plates, top with a generous scoop of rice, and enjoy right away, with condiments of choice.
Serves beans with chopped cilantro or Italian parsley, crumbled or grated cheese, minced onion, and, always, your favorite hot sauce and freshly ground black pepper. I also enjoy hot corn tortillas alongside.