Recipe: Florida Butter Beans with Caramelized Onions and Bacon

We have one last recipe for you from the Rancho Gordo cookbook, Heirloom Beans (reviewed here). This one didn't have an accompanying photo in the book, and we really wanted to try it ourselves. So we cooked it up this week to show you, once again, just how good beans can be.

Click through the gallery above for our process of cooking this dish. It initially looks rather complicated, but it's very easy and hands-off.

Basically, you...

• Soak a pot of dried beans all night.
• Then start cooking them in their soaking water so they can get softened up.
• Meanwhile, cook some bacon and set it aside. (We were out of pork bacon so we used a combination of salt pork and turkey bacon.)
• Then use the bacon fat to cook some diced onions, celery, and garlic.
• Add the softened vegetables to the beans while they continue cooking.
• Then use a bit more bacon fat or butter to slowly caramelize a bunch of onions, adding the cooked bacon back in at the end.

Ta-da! Rich, creamy beans full of flavor from the onions and garlic, topped with an incredibly flavorful mess of dark caramelized onions and bacon.

The amazing thing about this dish is that it looks very calorie-heavy and over-the-top... but it isn't! The beans are very good for you, and the topping isn't a fatty ragu or meat sauce; it's just onions! (With a bit of bacon.) We really recommend this recipe highly; we've been eating it all week and will be very sorry when it's gone.

Now here's the recipe:

Florida Butter Beans with Caramelized Onions and Bacon

Florida butter beans, sometimes known as calico pole beans, are baby lima beans. I grew up hating all lima beans because my mother, like many mothers in the 1960s, didn't quite know how to cook them to perfection. If you felt the same way, I urge you to give the heirloom varieties like this one another try.

Serves 4

1/2 pound Florida butter beans, soaked
4 slices high-quality bacon, diced
2 1/2 medium yellow onions
2 celery stalks, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Salt
3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Freshly ground pepper

Put the beans and their soaking water in a stockpot and add more cold water if needed to cover the beans by 1 inch. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are beginning to soften, about 1 hour.

In a medium, heavy skillet over medium heat, sauté the bacon until the fat is rendered and the bacon is beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat from the pan and reserve. Chop half of an onion and add to the pan over medium heat. Add the celery and garlic and sauté until the vegetables are soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add to the beans, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the beans are tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. When the beans are nearly soft, season them with salt.

Meanwhile, cut the remaining 2 whole onions in half, then cut into thin slices. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel, pour in 2 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat, and set over medium-low heat. Add the sliced onions and a few pinches of salt. Cook, stirring, until the onions wilt. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are medium brown, soft, and caramelized, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add 2 tablespoons water and stir to loosen any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the bacon to the caramelized onions and heat gently.

Top each serving of beans with some of the caramelized onions.

Substitution Note: Use Christmas lima beans.

More Recipes from Rancho Gordo:
Italian Marrow Beans with Tuna
Borlotti Beans in Tomato Sauce with Creamy Polenta

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