As a pantry staple, you can’t beat dried beans. They’re cheap, store well for a long time, and are filling and hearty. But the thing is, I just don’t have the patience for them. I often get the hankering for beans as soon as I’m hungry, and well, there’s no time for that critical step of soaking them overnight.
That’s why I often used canned beans for my weeknight cooking. But when fresh beans are in season in late summer and early autumn, I relish the time-intensive task of plucking them from the shells then baking them in a slow oven until tender.
Because I can be bothered to tediously open bean pods but can’t entertain tending a pot on the stove for hours, my preferred bean-cooking method is to chuck them in a baking dish with water and aromatics and let the oven do its thing. The usual suspects are present: onion, carrot and celery, along with whatever fresh, hardy herbs I have hanging out in the fridge. But then I toss in a few strips of prosciutto (Have a couple errant slices of bacon? Use those) to add their characteristic smoky, salty umami flavor. A dried chile de arbol spikes the low drum of the other aromatics.
A couple of hours in the oven — half the time covered in foil, the other half open to the reducing, crisping powers of the oven heat — renders the beans on the bottom tender and those on top crunchy. The cooking liquid is concentrated and flavorful, the perfect elixir to soak up with bread. It’s a simple pot of beans, minus the pot, but that allows you all the smug satisfaction of being the type of person who plans ahead for a great meal.
Baked fresh lima beans with prosciutto and chili
The aromatics used here should be what you have around and their presence a casual one. If you have leftover chopped onions or carrots, use those instead. If you have a fresh chili and no dried ones, use that. Similarly, I often buy the “poultry” packets of fresh herbs, which contain both rosemary and sage, and thyme, so that I can use them all without having to buy large amounts of either.
4½ cups shelled fresh lima beans
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 sage leaf
1 small sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 dried chile de arbol
6 peeled garlic cloves
4 strips prosciutto, torn into bite-size pieces
¼ medium yellow onion, halved lengthwise
½ small carrot
½ small celery stalk, plus chopped celery leaves for serving
Toasted bread, for serving
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spread the beans in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and add the olive oil, salt, sage, rosemary, bay leaf, chili, garlic, prosciutto, onion, carrot and celery. Pour in 4 cups water. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover and continue baking until beans are tender and the liquid is slightly reduced, 1 hour more.
Remove the dish from the oven and let the beans cool for 5 minutes. Spoon into bowls, drizzle with more olive oil if you like, and sprinkle with celery leaves. Serve with bread for soaking up all the bean liquid. Serves 4 to 6.