Two Pulse Casserole.
Any dish with a foundation – or a ‘heart’ – that is based in pulses always seems to amuse me on some poetic level. I find it to be very economical and very satisfying, at that. It awakens some kind of frugal layer to my disposition that often times can border on the bougie, therefore a pulse based dish can often humble me in the kitchen.
Pulses – in can form, as you’ll find are encouraged in this recipe – can be bought at very reasonable prices, will keep in your cupboard and could survive a nuclear apocalypse. This partnered with the fact that beans have a capacity of drinking up all flavours in a liquid texture which means they suddenly become the soul of a dish – and any ‘soul’ that comes under 90p a can is great enough for me.
A bean casserole can often conjure up the immediate image of what’s called a ‘cassoulet’, a casserole-type dish built up on a foundation of beans and spices and therefore while I do cook everything on a stove top, the rest is then cooked in the oven so you can crack on with other household nonsense. Somebody once told me a stew is cooked from the bottom up and a casserole is cooked from the outside in. Stew – stove, casserole – oven. That’s how I remember it!
But there is almost a Southern American feel to this dish – particularly with the addition of sweet paprika – which is unusual in a lot of bean casseroles, however flavour needs to be obtained from dry ingredients are we are not extracting from meat. This was a decision I opted for out of salute, purely because I wanted to craft a meal that did not feel like ‘The Veggie Option’ but was more the crowning moment of the table where you could be half way through the dish and not even clock the absence of flesh.
That and the fact I forgot to defrost the chorizo I had originally intended to be in the recipe, but that’s neither here nor there.
Preheat the oven to 200C. In a thick bottom casserole dish, i.e. one that can go stove top and inside an oven, heat a little olive oil. Side note – if you don’t have a casserole dish that’s stove top appropriate, cook everything in a deep pan before transferring to a warmed casserole dish and continue the recipe. ANYWAY – add some roughly chopped red onion to the oil and sprinkle in some smoked sea salt (or regular sea salt if need be) and soften the onion. Add some roughly chopped garlic to this – don’t grate it, as you almost want the garlic to act as another ingredient as opposed to a flavour base.
Roughly chop a bell pepper and add to the pan and mix. At this point, drain two cans of pulses (I choose chickpeas and borlotti beans). Roughly chop a chili and add before sprinkling in some sweet paprika and turning everything in the pan so it’s coated in smoky oils. Pour in a can of chopped tomatoes followed by a pint of vegetable stock along with a bouquet garni (literally a teabag of a bunch of different herbs). Add the drained pulses and bring everything to a boil before dropping to a simmer.
Once the pan has calmed down and stopped bubbling, carefully transfer the pan to the oven (or as you saw from my note earlier, if you’ve been doing this in a normal pan, then carefully pour the pan’s contents into a casserole dish) and slide into the oven with the lid on. Leave all of these ingredients to soak up all of their flavours for roughly 35-40 minutes before carefully removing and enjoying with a sprinkling of parsley and crusty bread. Don’t forget to fish out the bouqet garni mind – nobody wants a soggy teabag in their casserole.
I want to salute Nigel Slater with this recipe. When writing about bean casseroles in 2013 where he specified that the whole point of bean casseroles was that the beans are to act as a ‘flavour sponge’ and that this was ‘the whole point’ of a bean stew. And in true admiration for the man (he is absolutely one of my favourite writers and cannot even narrow down my favourite Slater book to recommend to you – plus he and I had a very pleasant conversation over Twitter once!) – not only did I follow his advice but I 100% agree.
I also want to subtly salute all of my vegetarian friends with this recipe and raise it as almost a peace offering to them. Often times I struggle to get my head around the appeal of dishes that do not incorporate some kind of animal sacrifice however a dish like this totally allows me to swim in their ocean and understand the allure of fantastic ingredients and allowing their natural flavours to punctuate a dish. A bean casserole does just that, so to all of my Veggie friends, this is my sorry.
To all my Vegan friends however, that’s another dish for another day.
I don’t have the strength to apologise to you, just yet.