Eat more beans. Loaded with fiber and vitamins, beans can be canned or dried. Dried beans require a little forethought but return the effort with good taste. Soak them before you go to bed, even if you don’t know what to do with them the next day. After soaking, simmer them for 1-2 hours. Add salt to taste. Keep them in a container all week to have in different combinations. This gratin can be reheated for lunch, frozen for a future dinner. It will warm you up on a cold day.
Use whatever vegetables you have, or get those you like. Try with fennel, winter squash, celeriac, turnips. Any knobby root will do well here. You can roast a tray of vegetable scraps and mix them into the beans with some of the cooking liquid. Top with bread crumbs. Add grated Parmesan cheese if you want it richer.
Think of it as a fast cassoulet. Make it vegetarian by replacing the bacon with olive oil. This is French peasant food: cheap, hearty and full of flavor. Even more so on a snowy day.
Bean and Winter Vegetable Gratin
½ pound dried pinto or cranberry or red beans, rinsed and soaked overnight or 2 fifteen-ounce cans of beans, drained and rinsed
½ pound thick sliced bacon, cut crosswise into ¼” matchsticks (about 2 cups) – optional; replace with ¼ cup olive oil for cooking vegetables
1 carrot, diced (about ½ cup)
2 stalks of celery, diced (about ½ cup)
1 leek, white and light green part only, washed carefully and diced (about 1 cup)
½ pound mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
Thyme leaves, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
10 fresh sage leaves, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
1 cup tomatoes, diced, fresh or canned
1½ cups bread crumbs, preferably homemade and rough cut
Drain the soaked beans and cover with fresh water by 2 inches in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and skim off any foam. Simmer gently 1-2 hours or until the beans are tender (older beans take longer). Add more water if necessary during the cooking. Season to taste with salt. Set the beans aside to cool in their liquid.
Heat bacon or olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat. When bacon is crisped and brown, remove from pan, reserving bacon fat in pan. Add the diced vegetables to the oil (bacon oil or olive oil), and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, sage and salt. Cook for a few minutes, then stir in tomatoes and cook an additional 5 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt.
Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid. Mix the beans with the vegetables and put into a medium-sized gratin or baking dish. Taste for salt. Add enough bean liquid to almost cover. Drizzle with olive oil. Cover with bread crumbs.
Bake for 40 minutes in a pre-heated 350°F oven, checking occasionally. If the gratin is drying out, carefully spoon in a little bean liquid, avoiding to get the crumbs wet.