Among the casual rules that guide our time is one that we hear a lot but not in the context of cooking: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Yet this is something anyone who cooks at home should take to heart, especially today, when there is widespread belief that only chefs get it right and then only when they use the freshest local ingredients gathered as close to the moment of cooking as possible.
In a perfect world, we would all walk outside to pick, say, a few tomatoes for a BLT or salad and eggplant and peppers for homemade ratatouille. We’d pull onions and dig potatoes at the last minute, and grow enough shell beans to keep the pantry stocked until next season.
But it isn’t a perfect world, and as fall pulls its cool, golden blanket over summer’s fading harvest and our concerns turn to shopping for school supplies, supervising homework, and getting dinner on the table earlier than during the leisurely days of June and July, it’s a good thing to remember.
A well-stocked pantry can help, especially when certain canned foods are part of it. Using canned foods, especially here in Sonoma County where we grow or raise almost everything, can feel like cheating, but if you know which canned foods to rely upon, they can be a time-saver and feel like a lifesaver.
When it comes to canned foods, beans – shell beans, not green beans – are among the best options. With a selection on hand, along with rice, cheese, and a few other pantry staples, you can make a delicious and filling dinner quickly, no matter how late soccer practice, theater rehearsals, or parent meetings go.
Options have never been better. There are now several brands of organically grown beans and legumes in cans that do not have the BPA (bisphenol A) lining that was ubiquitous until recently. You’ll find black beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas, and lentils are among the selections at most local markets.
So, to sum it up: Cook from scratch whenever you can – fresh shell bean season is coming right up so there will be great options at our farmers markets – and when you can’t, don’t feel guilty about using a shortcut.
This soup is filling enough to serve as dinner if you add a big green salad alongside. To serve four or five people, use two cans of soup, 2 cups of liquid, and 4 ounces of cheese; it is not necessary to double the amount of onion.
Pinto Bean Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 15-ounce can organic pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup chicken stock or water
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Cheddar cheese
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
— Steamed rice
— Toppings of choice (see Note below)
Pour the olive oil into a medium sauce pan and set over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 12 to 15 minutes. Do not let it brown. Add the beans, the chicken stock or water, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let cool for 3 or 4 minutes. Purée with an immersion blender, stir in the cheese, taste, and correct for salt, if needed. Season with a little black pepper. If the soup seems a bit thick, thin with a little more stock or water and heat through.