White Beans with Garlic and Herbs

My mother liked to make this recipe for our dinners (without the hamhocks) and serve it with slices of ripe tomatoes. The next day she’d mash leftover beans with a bit of mayonnaise and serve it on slices of crusty toasted French bread. The preparation couldn’t be more basic: Sweat some aromatic vegetables, add the beans, a few herbs, and some cured pork, if you like. A few hours later, you’ll have bowls aromatic beans on the table.

White Beans with Garlic and Herbs
Serves 6

1 pound dried cannellini, Great Northern, or other dried white beans
1 Parmesan rind
Olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
1 or 2 sprigs thyme (rosemary or sage works well, too)
3 quarts chicken stock
Ham hock, or a piece of pancetta or bacon (optional)

Rinse the beans and pick over, removing any small stones or debris. Soak the beans and Parmesan rind, covered by an inch or so of salted water, overnight.

Cover the bottom of a large heavy pot or earthenware bean pot with olive oil, add the vegetables and herbs, and cook gently over medium heat for 10 minutes. Drain the beans of their soaking water, reserve the Parmesan rind, and add both to the pot along with enough chicken stock to cover by 2 inches. Add the ham hock, pancetta, or bacon.

Bring the beans to a boil, and let them boil for a minute or two. Lower the heat to a very gentle simmer and cook the beans until soft and tender, 1 to 2 hours, depending on their variety and age. Add more hot chicken stock as needed during the cooking to keep the beans covered by at least an inch of water. When the beans are soft, taste, and add more salt if needed.

Serve the beans moistened with the cooking broth and a drizzle of olive oil, some Parmesan, or even tiny dollops of pesto. If not serving right away, let the beans cool completely in the broth, and refrigerate. They will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator.