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Bake Your Beans

June 17, 1993|MARIE SIMMONS

When I was a child, the popular expression, "full of beans," was one I never fully understood. The only beans my mother cooked for us were the fresh green variety. Being literally filled with beans was a concept I couldn't quite grasp.

I do remember my grandmother's rendition of pasta fagioli. I can still see her ladling out portions thick with short pasta tubes, creamy white cannellini beans and a bright-green leafy vegetable from a large earthenware bowl.

Sadly, my mother believed that pasta fagioli was old-fashioned peasant fare and inappropriate for consumption by her children. Fortunately, the current popularity of ethnic cooking and the demand for low-fat, good-tasting, healthful foods have made all beans fashionable. You'll find them popping up on menus in trendy restaurants and for sale in gourmet markets. From the "heirloom" varieties with such names as scarlet runner to exotics named adzuki and anasazi, to the more common black, garbanzo, kidney or pinto, beans have gone mainstream.

Perhaps we are not yet "full of beans," but recent statistics show a significant increase in the amount that we are eating.

Oven-baked white beans is a slow-cooking recipe that I make ahead and keep on hand for various dishes. The beans will keep for at least four days and are great mashed and spread on crostini , or mixed with chopped celery and a dash of vinegar and served as a salad.

In this menu, I serve them warm, as a side dish, with soy-glazed lamb patties, but they are also good with baked or broiled fish or chicken. Or, add cooked pasta and escarole to create your own version of Nana's pasta fagioli.

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Salt inhibits the cooking of beans, so use unsalted broth and add salt to taste after the beans are tender.

OVEN-BAKED WHITE BEANS 1 pound dried white beans (preferably cannellini or white kidney, large lima beans or great northern beans) 4 cloves garlic, crushed 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 small onion, coarsely chopped 1 bay leaf, fresh thyme or other fresh herb to taste 2 cups unsalted chicken broth or water Salt Freshly ground pepper

Place beans in large bowl. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Let stand overnight.

Next day, drain beans and place in 3-quart casserole along with garlic, olive oil, onion and bay leaf. Add enough broth to barely cover beans. Cover tightly with foil.

Bake at 350 degrees until beans are tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove from oven. Set aside to cool, if making ahead. (As beans stand they will absorb much of liquid left in baking dish.) Remove bay leaf. Season to taste with salt, pepper and additional olive oil, if desired. Makes 8 servings.

SOY-GLAZED GROUND LAMB PATTIES 1 1/4 pounds lean ground lamb Low-sodium soy sauce

Dampen hands with cold water and very lightly shape lamb into 4 evenly sized patties about 1/2-inch thick. Lightly brush both sides with soy sauce. Cook over hot grill or broil 3 inches from heat in broiler 3 to 5 minutes per side for medium. Or patties can be pan-broiled in heavy, non-stick skillet. Makes 4 servings.

ESCAROLE IN OLIVE OIL 1 (2-pound) head escarole, rinsed, trimmed, torn into 1-inch pieces 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 clove garlic, finely chopped or crushed

Heat large pan of water to boiling. Stir in escarole and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain immediately. Press on greens with spoon to remove excess liquid.

Combine olive oil and garlic in large skillet. Heat until garlic begins to sizzle. Stir in escarole and cook about 2 minutes. If necessary, turn heat to high to evaporate excess moisture. Makes 4 servings.

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