I recently spent several days in Boston with my son Ari who is a student at MIT (much Jewish mother kvelling). Boston is an easily maneuverable city, unlike Chicago, LA or New York. You can get from point A to point B without much cab fare, train time or stress. I love the cobblestone streets and the monuments on every corner that I HAD to read much to Ari’s displeasure.
You cannot go to Boston without thinking about it’s nickname “beantown”— although I did not see one restaurant that served the sweet-creamy legumes. So, I returned from Boston craving beans, which are one of my favorite childhood summertime BBQ side dishes. I did not really think I was going to eat them in Boston, but had sort of expected to see some chef do a menu-play on the classic. But I guess I will be that chef! With July 4th and the long weekend ahead I decided to riff baked beans—bringing the classic dish into the modern age.
I left in the molasses, which is a remnant from Boston’s not so puritanical past in the rum trade. Molasses adds an earthy deep sweetness that brings out the nuttiness of the beans. I used Navy beans for both their ability to hold their shape as well as their historical use in the classic dish.
I added my two favorite pantry ingredients— pimenton and root beer. Pimenton is smoked paprika which adds an incredible complex smokiness that deepens the flavor of many of my favorite recipes. By adding the pimenton to the bean recipe, I achieved an off-the-grill smokiness and heightened the sweetness of the molasses. I also added root beer for sweet and slightly spicy layer to the dish. Of course you could just use tap water, but why would you when you have a flavor-packed liquid ready at hand? Serve this vegetarian dish with your favorite grilled foods or as a protein packed vegetarian entrée.
Sweet and Smoky Baked Beans
2 large red onions, cut into small dice
6 garlic cloves, minced finely
½ cup molasses
½ cup ketchup (I prefer Heinz-organic)
1 cup root beer (do not use diet root beer)
3 tablespoons Dijon style mustard
2 tablespoons hot pimenton*
3 28-ounce cans Navy beans or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and Pepper
Preheat oven to 350 or preheat slow cooker to high
1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Lightly coat the pan with olive oil. Caramelize the onions until they are deep golden brown and have softened slightly (about 7 minutes). Add the garlic and continue cooking for an additional 3 minutes until the garlic is very fragrant and slightly softened. Transfer the onions and garlic to a large casserole or slow cooker.
2. Combine all of the ingredients in the casserole or slow cooker. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes until the sauce is bubbly. Or cook in the slow cooker for 2 hours until the sauce is bubbly.
Serve with chicken, fish, burgers and dogs or anything!
*Pimenton can be purchased online at www.thespicehouse.com. Pimenton comes either Sweet or Hot. I prefer hot.