We’re having an early cold snap here and the air is quite crisp! When my thoughts turn to comfort food it’s the long-cooked, deeply flavored dishes that I crave. Baked beans seem like a natural; and along with beef frankfurters, they satisfy that craving for hearty and flavorful fare. If you’re a baseball fan, this might be a good dinner to enjoy while you’re watching the game. Either way, baked beans partner well with grilled and smoked meats. You can prepare them ahead of time, in fact, beans should be soaked overnight before the cooking process begins. This is a traditional recipe, full of balanced flavor. Be sure you cook the beans thoroughly before you add the sauce; the molasses will prevent the beans from softening further (which is good if the beans are already very tender, not so good if they are al dente). Cooked beans can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days, if the sauce seems thick add a little water as you reheat the beans.
Boston Baked Beans
(makes 10 to 12 portions)
1 pound dried navy or Great Northern beans
8 ounces thick cut, smoky bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
2 cups ketchup
6 tablespoons maple syrup
6 tablespoons dark molasses
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Rinse and sort through the beans. Soak them overnight, covered, in a large container of water (or use the quick-soak method explained below)*. Drain and rinse the soaked beans and place them in a heavy saucepan. Cover with plenty of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until completely tender, about 1 hour. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Place a flameproof 2-quart casserole or Dutch oven over medium heat and saute the bacon until it is slightly crisp and the fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Add the onions and garlic, and cook until wilted, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the brown sugar and stir over medium-low heat until it has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ketchup, syrup, molasses, Worcestershire, mustard, salt, and pepper. Add the drained beans and mix well. If the sauce seems thick, add up to 1/4 cup of the bean liquid (take care not to make it soupy). Cover the casserole and transfer to the oven. Bake, stirring occasionally, for 2 1/2 hours. Uncover the beans and add another 1/2 to 3/4 cup of reserved cooking liquid. Re-cover and bake another 30 minutes. At this point, remove the cover and bake until the sauce is thick and dark, another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once. Serve hot, with your choice of accompaniments.
* To quick-soak beans: Rinse and sort the beans. Place them in a large pot with lots of water. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans and use as per your recipe instructions.
(minimally adapted from a recipe for All-American Baked Beans in “The New Basics Cookbook” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins)