Adding salt to boiling water is almost a reflex action for many cooks. But when cooking dried pulses, such as beans, it is important not to add salt at the beginning of the process. If salt is added, this will harden the bean skins, making them less palatable. For the desired soft texture from dried beans, add salt at the end of the cooking time.
400g white beans, soaked overnight
100ml olive oil
2 medium brown onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
150g streaky bacon, finely chopped (optional)*
1 tsp ground white pepper
3 tsp salt
2 tbsp tomato paste
300ml red wine
800g tin tomatoes
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp brown sugar
* Withhold this optional ingredient for the vegetarian version
This is a regular on our menu at this time of year with sausages or even a piece of fish. You can omit the bacon for a perfect vegetarian dish.
Preheat oven to 180C. Drain beans and place in a large saucepan. Cover well with cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer until cooked, about 30 minutes. Drain and reserve.
Heat olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan. Add onion, garlic, bacon, pepper and salt and cook gently until soft, about 15 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook for two minutes. Add wine and reduce by two-thirds. Add tomatoes, bay leaves, sugar and beans. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and bake for one hour, stirring occasionally.