How to make baked beans like a boss with this easy recipe by Vanessa Kimbell, chef, baker and founder of the Sourdough School.
PERFECT FOR FREEZING & BRUNCH
The humble baked bean might seem like one of the most ethical foods you can buy: vegan, high fibre, gluten free (if you can manage without toast!), available in low-sugar and low-salt varieties, with no artificial flavourings, preservatives, or sweeteners like fructose syrup.
I’m very particular about how I eat my beans: on white, tight-crumbed sourdough toast, cut medium–thick and left to go crunchy in the toaster, then slathered with cold salted butter, and the beans have to be HOT.
Take a step back though, and behind this seemingly simple pleasure there’s a major problem. The dirty secret of the Italian tomato harvest: the ‘tomato slaves’ paid poverty wages and forced to live in conditions that medical charities have described as ‘hellish’.
Their temporary homes are often dilapidated shacks, usually without basic services like power or sanitation, and with as many as thirty people crowded into a single tiny building - so overcrowded that, whatever the weather, some of them have to sleep outside.
Work is a 14-hour day, and what little money they earn is often soaked up by inflated prices charged by gangmasters for accommodation, food, or transport. Unable to send money home or even to scrape together enough to leave, this is a life of despair.
90% of Italy’s annual 4 million tonne tomato harvest is turned into canned tomatoes, purée, paste and passata, or becomes an ingredient in food manufacturing, with more than 80% of the UK’s processed tomato imports coming from Italy.
I now try to avoid ‘manufactured’ baked beans and tomato sauces and make my own, in season, with tomatoes grown locally by people who have been treated with respect, fairness and dignity.
💡 What beans are used in baked beans? Tinned beans are usually haricot beans, but I like to use borlotti and fava beans.
Homemade baked beans recipe
It only takes 30 minutes to cook, but this sauce needs to be simmered for 3–4 hours to get the most flavour out of it.
Make it time well-spent by preparing big batch and freezing it in 700g portions so you don’t have to do it every time. That way you have tomato sauce for any dish you like!
Get all your ingredients for tomato sauce ready before you start. We call this mise en place; it’s how you make sure you’re not forgetting something when you start cooking.
|2 tbsp olive oil||2 sticks celery, diced|
|1 small onion||1kg tomatoes, quartered|
|2 bay leaves||handful of oregano leaves|
|2 carrots, diced||fresh ground black pepper|
|1 level tsp sea salt|
If you want to use dried beans, soak them overnight and cook until soft (or about 30 minutes in a pressure cooker).
Like with the sauce, if you’re cooking from scratch, you can make a big batch of beans and freeze in small portions so you can use them for more baked beans or other dishes!
|2 tbsp olive oil||2 medium onions, chopped finely||1 clove garlic||600g fava or borlotti beans|
|1 tsp five spice||700g tomato sauce (above)|
|1 tbsp light muscovado sugar|
How to make baked beans
Step 1: make tomato sauce
In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil and sauté the onion, then add the remaining ingredients, cover and reduce the heat to the lowest setting.
Leave to cook in its own steam for about 30 minutes, then remove the lid. The mixture will be soft; give it a good stir and cook for a further 3–4 hours, gently bubbling away. Stir occasionally, and if it looks like it is catching, add a little water.
Leave until cool enough to handle, then press every last drop through a sieve using a wooden spoon. Discard anything remaining in the sieve. This sauce can be made in large batches and freezes well.
Step 2: Make the beans
In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil and sauté the onions and garlic until soft. Add the remaining ingredients (including tomato sauce) to the pan, then bring gently to a boil.
Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You may need to add a splash of water if the sauce gets too thick.
As I mentioned, I like my beans hot, on fresh sourdough toast, slathered with butter - but it’s up to you really. These beans are perfect for a Sunday brunch or even served as a side at a barbecue - it is summer after all!
💡 Wondering are baked beans good for you? If you make them from scratch, they are. Beans and tomatoes are a source of prebiotics that nourish the bacteria in your gut.
Recipe by Vanessa Kimbell, originally published in Food for Thought (2015) by Kyle Books.