I wanted to make hoppin’ john today, it being the first day of the new year, but I didn’t have any black-eyed peas and the only grocery store open today in town didn’t either, so I made these instead, substituting navy beans for the pois pigeon, letting the bright green parsley in the gremolata stand in for the traditional collards, and giving the gremolata a Persian cha-cha with preserved lemon in place of the straight stuff. Ooh, look, so many different cultures living happily together in the bowl. Has to bode well for the year.
2c navy or great northern beans (a pound)
6 slices of bacon, diced as fine as you can stand to dice it (almost-frozen bacon dices very peacefully, while raw bacon resists dicing vigorously)
3-5 cloves of garlic, one clove whole and the rest finely chopped
½ t cumin seed
½ c finely chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
2 T finely chopped preserved lemon, divided
1/3 cup excellent, fruity olive oil
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
Quick-soak the beans by covering them in plenty of water in a medium pot, bringing it to a boil, then letting the beans sit off the heat in the hot water for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350. Drain the beans, and place them in a dutch oven with the single whole garlic clove and water to cover by about two inches, and bring this all to a low boil over medium heat while the oven heats up. Put the lid on the pot and stick it in the oven, turning the heat down to about 300, and leave it there for about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally, until the beans are quite tender. Test at least 11 of them, from different areas of the pot, before you decide they are done. If you don’t, approximately 94 rogue undercooked beans will lurk in there and make a nasty surprise for you later, and this dish is supposed to be about your lucky new year and you wouldn’t want that. When you are satisfied that you have a nicely cooked pot of beans, remove it from the oven and set it on the stove.
While the beans are simmering in the oven, put the diced bacon in a heavy skillet and turn the heat to medium. Once things are sizzling, bring the heat down as low as it will go and let the bacon render its fat completely, leaving completely crispy bacon nubbins. This may take about 15 minutes, but do not think it is a good time to nip into the next room and check your email. You will burn it then, if you are anything like me. So stay nearby, stirring occasionally, until you have a nicely even mahogany color and total crispiness throughout. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bits of bacon to a napkin-lined plate.
Pour off most of the fat, leaving a slick in the pan, and turn the flame up slightly. Put in the cumin seeds, and stir once. Put in the chopped garlic, and stir again until the fragrance rises (do NOT let it brown), then turn off the heat and add all but about 2t of the preserved lemon. Stir once, then scrape the garlic, lemon and cumin into the pot of beans. Add all but 3T of the bacon bits to the pot as well, and a few twists of black pepper and some salt to taste. Stir all this in, and add a splash of water or broth if the beans seem thick. Simmer this a moment to marry the flavors.
In a small bowl, combine the remaining bacon and lemon with the parsley, olive oil and pepper flakes.
Serve the warmed beans with a dollop of this mixture on top, over rice or with nice bread for dunking, and have a peaceful and tasty year.