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One-pot bean dishes are simply delicious

Steve Sando of Napa, the man behind the Rancho Gordo line of heirloom dried beans, has been growing and distributing dozens of varieties of beans for the past 15 years.

Each year, his bean business has grown by nearly 20 percent, like a beanstalk reaching for the sky. Gradually, the Rancho Gordo beans have infiltrated the mainstream and are now widely available at many grocery stores, including Sonoma and Glen Ellen markets as well as Oliver's markets.

“Beans are now transitioning from their place as an obscure favorite of a relatively small cadre of cooks to the center of attention,” Sando wrote in his 2014 cookbook, “Supper at Rancho Gordo.”

“The reasons for this change are obvious. First and foremost is the flavor. Simply put, beans are delicious,” he wrote.

From France and Italy to Mexico and the Middle East, the cultures of the world have produced dozens of classic bean dishes that showcase this versatile legume as a tasty, creamy response to “What's for dinner?” Easy to grow and easy to store, beans are also easy to cook in everything from a pressure cooker and slow cooker to a Dutch oven and clay pot.

With more than three dozen varieties of beans now available from Rancho Gordo alone, there's no limit on the creativity that can come out of the bean pot.

“My heart is really with the Mexican beans, but what sells is the European beans, which originally came from Mexico,” Sando said from his storefront in mid-town Napa. “The Royal Corona - the big, huge, fat one - is almost double everything else. It's also pretty versatile. A bowl of those and some Parmesan cheese and olive oil ... that's the recipe.”

During the winter, a simple, one-pot bean dish or warm bean salad can provide a hearty, affordable way to feed your family - or entertain a crowd - at the end of a long day or long week of work. And because they are fresher than most store-bought beans, the Rancho Gordo beans will cook quicker while elevating the flavor of your dish.

The company, which grows most of its beans along the West Coast from California to Washington, offers a cassoulet bean grown from French Tarbais seed, as well as the unusual Domingo Rojo, ideal for making the famous red beans and rice of New Orleans.

“It's kidney-like and it stays whole, but it has a fabulous potlikker (bean broth)” he said. “It coats the rice when you cook it.”

As a new experiment this year, Rancho Gordo also grew the all-American black-eyed pea for everyone's favorite New Year's dish, Hoppin' John. Sando expects the supply to run out in a few months.

“We'll probably keep them year-round next year,” he said. “They are quick cooking, take less than an hour, and are more vegetably than beany.”

As part of the company's Xoxoc project, Rancho Gordo also collaborates with several small farms in Mexico, which grow heirloom beans and supply the company with other artisan products, such as stoneground chocolate and banana vinegar. The project helps the farmers continue to grow their indigenous crops by providing a market for them.

After releasing his first cookbook, “Heirloom Beans (Chronicle Books, 2008), Sando decided to publish his next cookbook himself as a platform for the company's other products as well. These include white corn posole, quinoa, wild rice, Mexican Oregano, New Mexican Red Chile Powder and the stoneground chocolate, among others.

The company has also self-published a “Cassoulet” cookbook and plans to create a sequel to “Supper at Rancho Gordo,” featuring more plant-based, vegetarian dishes.

For those who love cassoulet but don't have the time to make it, “Supper at Rancho Gordo” includes a recipe for Cheater's Cassoulet that was developed by the company's general manager and young mom, Julia Newberry.

“It's delicious, and you'll actually do this recipe,” Sando said. “It's pretty simple - good for a weeknight and a weekend too - and I think it holds true to the spirit of the original dish, especially if you use good beans.”

Another super simple dish is the Garbanzo and Tasso Ham Salad, a side dish that Sando sourced from Napa barbecue chef Jonathan Sedlar.

If you want to fancy up your beans for company, Sando suggests cooking up a big bowl of White Beans with Clams and Chorizo. Along with Spanish-style white beans, the dish calls for whole clams and the hard, Spanish-style chorizo.

For those who enjoy the complex flavors of Oaxaca, Sando shares a recipe for tortillas with queso fresco and a black bean sauce, called Zócalo Enfrijoladas.

“It's really easy once you puree the beans, and you dip the tortillas in it,” he said. “You have to have good beans and good tortillas.”

For dessert, Sando suggested a recipe from his Mount Veeder friend and neighbor, Connie Green of Wine Forest Wild Foods, for a delicious mousse with Rancho Gordo's stoneground chocolate, which is hand-roasted on a clay pan over a wood fire by women in the state of Guerrero.

“Mexican chocolate is not tempered,” he said. “It's really unrefined and wild ... and closer to the source.”

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The following recipes are from “Supper at Rancho Gordo” by Steve Sando (Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Foods, 2015).

“Julia Newberry was our general manager until fate stepped in and blessed her with the cutest baby imaginable,” Sando writes. “She still works for us ... and I'm especially thankful she came up with this weeknight variation of the iconic French dish.”

Cheater's Cassoulet

Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons olive oil

6 ounces bacon (about 6 slices), chopped

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

2 fresh Italian sausages (about 3/4 pound total), casings removed

1 pound dried Cranberry, Yellow Eye, Flageolet, or white beans, picked over and soaked (see sidebar)

4 fresh rosemary sprigs and 1 large sage sprig, tied together with a kitchen string

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon Rancho Gordo New Mexican Red Chile Powder

1-2 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water

1/2 loaf day-old sourdough baguette

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice

- Salt and freshly ground pepper

- Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large Dutch oven, warm 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-low heat. Add the bacon and cook until it has rendered most of its fat, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate and set aside. Add the onion to the pan and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until browned, 5-10 minutes. Add the beans with their soaking liquid, the tied herbs, the bay leaf, the chile powder, and enough broth or water to cover the mixture by about 1 inch. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover the pot, and transfer to the oven. Bake until the beans are tender but not mushy, about 1 hour. Check the beans often to make sure they don't dry out, adding liquid as needed.

Meanwhile, chop the bread into 1-inch chunks. IN a skillet, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-low heat. Add the bread chunks and cook, stirring as needed, until golden on all sides and crisp, 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove the bean mixture from the oven and stir in the reserved bacon and the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle the toasted bread chunks over the top. Re-cover and bake until the beans are fully cooked, another 20-30 minutes.

Remove from the oven, remove and discard the bundled herbs and bay leaf, and serve, garnished with parsley.

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“I hosted a dinner party not long ago and this dish ... mostly improvised but based on a firm Spanish tradition, was a huge hit,” he writes. “One of my sons was licking the bowl ... other guests went for third helpings.”

White Beans with Clams and Chorizo

Serves 4 to 6

1 pound dried Alubia Blanca, Royal Corona (from Rancho Gordo,) or other white beans, picked over and soaked (see sidebar)

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup finely chopped mirepoix (a mix of celery, carrot, yellow onion, or whatever combo you have on hand)

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 white onion, chopped

1/2 cup white onion, chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped cured Spanish-style chorizo

2 plum tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 pounds small clams, well scrubbed

- Extra-virgin olive oil for serving

- Coarse country bread and butter for serving

In a large pot, heat a ¼ cup of the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the mirepoix and a third of the garlic and sauté until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the beans and their soaking water to the pot and stir well. The water should cover the beans by 1½ inches; if it does not, add fresh water to reach that level. (If you prefer not to use the soaking water, drain the beans, add them to the pot, and then add fresh water to cover the beans by about 1½ inches.)

Raise the heat to high, bring to a rapid boil, and boil rapidly for about 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to low, so the beans are at a very gentle simmer. Cover and cook until the beans are almost tender, then add the salt and continue to cook until they are tender but not mushy. As the beans cook, check them from time to time and add water as needed to keep them covered by 1 inch. Do not let them overcook and become soggy.

Meanwhile, in a very large saucepan with a lid, heat the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and the remaining garlic and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the chorizo and cook gently until some of the fat has rendered, about 5 more minutes.

Add the tomatoes, red peppers, and wine and cook for 5-6 minutes to blend the flavors. Increase the heat to medium and add the clams, discarding any that failed to close to the touch.

Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Uncover the pan and cook until all of the clams open, another few minutes. Remove from the heat, then remove and discard any clams that failed to open.

The bean mixture should be soupy and thick rather than thin. If there is too much liquid, ladle some of it out until you achieve a good consistency. Add the clam mixture to the cooked beans and stir very gently until well mixed. Simmer the mixture over low heat for a few minutes to allow all of the flavors to marry but not get murky.

To serve, ladle into large shallow bowls and drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil over each serving. Have a large communal bowl for the discarded shells and encourage your guests to eat the clams with their hands. Pass plenty of good, hearty bread and rich, creamy butter at the table.

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“One of my favorite places to be is sitting on the main square in the city of Oaxaca,” Sando writes. “I love these enfrijoladas that I buy from a vendor on the plaza. The stars of this dish are the tortillas and beans, so make sure they're both the best. You can easily make a vegan version by using bean broth instead of chicken broth and omitting the cheese.”

Zócalo Enfrijoladas

Serves 6

1 white onion, sliced into thin rings

2 tablespoons good-quality lard or olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 cups drained, cooked Rancho Gordo Midnight Black or Moro Beans (see sidebar for cooking directions)

2 cups chicken broth

1/3 cup canola oil

12 corn tortillas

1/2 cup queso fresco or farmer cheese

- Chopped, fresh cilantro and thinly sliced white onion for garnish

- Sour cream or crème fraiche (optional)

In a large saucepan, gently cook the onion in the lard over low heat until the onion slices are almost falling apart. Add the garlic and continue cooking until the garlic is soft. Add the beans and broth and continue cooking until the beans are warmed through. Mash with a wooden bean masher (machacadora) or a potato ricer until somewhat smooth but with a little texture.

In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Using tongs, dip a tortilla in the hot oil for a quick bath, then transfer to paper towels or a paper bag to drain while you repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Dip a tortilla into the bean mixture, coating it well on both sides. Place on an individual plate, sprinkle with a little cheese, and then fold in half. Sprinkle with a little more cheese and garnish with the cilantro and onion. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, allowing 2 tortillas per serving. Top with a dollop of sour cream if you like. Serve immediately.

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“The obvious uses for our Stoneground Chocolate disks are hot chocolate and dark mole sauces, but my friend Connie Green of Wine Forest surprised me and my sons one day with a mousse made from our chocolate disks,” Sando writes. “Connie ... forgot the vanilla and butter when she made it for us, and you know what? It was incredible. I've since made it with the butter and vanilla, and I really preferred Connie's mistake! I'll let you decide.”

Mousse with Stoneground Chocolate

Serves 4

6 ounces Rancho Gordo Stoneground Chocolate (about 1¾ tablets), broken into chunks

2-3 tablespoons brewed coffee or water

1 tablespoon salted butter (optional)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, or 1 tablespoon rum (optional)

3 very fresh eggs, separated

- Whipped cream for serving (optional)

In a heavy saucepan, combine the chocolate and 2 tablespoons coffee over low heat and stir until the chocolate is melted and has a thick, creamy consistency, adding the remaining 1 tablespoon coffee, if needed. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla, if using

While the chocolate is still hot enough to cook the egg yolks slightly, add the yolks, one at a time, while stirring constantly. Let the mixture cool for just a bit.

In a large bowl, using a hand-held mixer, beat the egg whites until they hold a soft peak. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the chocolate mixture into the egg whites just until combined. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour.

Transfer the mousse to 4 ramekins or pretty cups for serving. Top with whipped cream, if desired, and serve.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

Diane Peterson

Features, The Press Democrat

I’m interested in the home kitchen, from sheet-pan suppers to the latest food trends. Food encompasses the world, its many cultures, languages and history. It is both essential and sensual. I also have my fingers on the pulse of classical music in Sonoma County, from student mariachi bands to jazz crossover and symphonic sounds. It’s all a rich gumbo, redolent of the many cultures that make up our country and the world.

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