My husband, it can be stated without hesitation, is a guy who knows what he wants. For his birthday, which happens to fall on Memorial Day weekend this year, he was given the choice of what to do over the long weekend to celebrate his special day. No restrictions…anything he wants, I'll do my best to accomodate.
No "trip to Paris" crossed his lips, no "dinner at _________" restaurant. Without hesitation, he answered, "Brisket."
You see, Dave is a guy who loves his smoke. The last brisket he made (left) used a method called the "Texas crutch" where the meat is first smoked for several hours, then wrapped in butcher paper and returned to the smoker. After a few more hours, it goes into a cooler to rest and break down any remaining collagen that has withstood the battering of heat, smoke and time. At the end of which emerged the most succulent, tender and delicious hunk of meat he'd ever made.
Ayers Creek Farm borlotto beans.
The pressure to come up with appropriate sides then lands on me. My fallback is always my mother's potato salad, a family favorite that pairs perfectly with smoky protein. I was struggling with what else would be appropriate when I remembered a baked bean dish I'd made a couple of years ago that had the slightest bite of vinegar, an Italian-inflected version based on a recipe from contributor Jim Dixon.
So the menu is set, and if you want updates I'll be posting photos of the results to my social media feeds (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook). But if you're simply want to make the baked beans for yourself this weekend, you can find the instructions below.
Baked Beans Italian Style
2 c. dried beans (I'm using borlotti beans from Ayers Creek Farm)
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 bay leaves
1/4 lb. bacon
1 large onion, chopped fine
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. sage leaves, chopped fine
Put dried beans in a pot and add water to cover by at least 2”. Cover and soak overnight on the counter.
Preheat oven to 250°.
Drain water from beans and add fresh water to cover by 1”. Add bacon, bay leaves, salt and olive oil. Cover, place in oven and bake 5 to 7 hours until beans are tender (a slow cooker would work well, too).
One hour before the end of the cooking time for the beans, combine the onions, honey, vinegar and sage in a small saucepan and simmer for 1 hour. When beans are tender, add onion mixture to them and combine, then bake for an additional hour. Remove the bay leaves. Remove the piece of bacon and slice it into pieces or shred it, then stir it back into the beans. Taste for salt and adjust as desired. This is great served right out of the oven but is also spectacular made a day ahead for dinner or a picnic the next day.
* My last batch had quite a bit of liquid left after cooking, so I simmered it on the stovetop for several hours, uncovered, to evaporate the liquid, stirring it occasionally to keep the beans from sticking. It worked like a charm, and the liquid turned into a luscious, beany sauce.