Where some see a pot of beans as a humble, one-note dish, we see limitless potential. Our version builds layer after layer of flavor by cooking heirloom beans in stock with plenty of aromatics, then finishing the dish with a generous pour of heavy cream. The result is worthy of a main course on its own, but is also a goes-with-anything sidedish. And there’s always enough extra to turn into lunch the next day (or the next!), whether spooned over toasted bread or rice, or thinned out with stock to make a nourishing soup.
Soaking beans ahead of time helps them cook more quickly and evenly during the braise. If you forget to do this step, there’s a quick workaround: Cover the beans with a couple of inches of water, then bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Turn off the heat, cover, and let the beans soak for 1 hour, then drain.
Feel free to use as many different kinds of beans as you like in this recipe (we like mixing three or four heirloom varieties), but try to select ones of a similar size, or any smaller ones will be overcooked by the time the larger beans are tender.
Finishing the braised beans with heavy cream makes them extra rich and flavorful, but if you eschew dairy, they’ll still be plenty tasty.
Creamy Braised Beans
2 cups mixed dried heirloom beans
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 head garlic, halved lengthwise
1 large shallot or small onion, halved
6 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
½ cup heavy cream
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
Chopped parsley, for serving
In a bowl, dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt in 2 quarts of water. Add the beans and let soak for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
Drain the beans and transfer to 4.5qt Dutch Oven. Add the chicken stock, garlic, shallot, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally and skimming any foam that rises to the surface, until all of the beans are tender, 1 to 2 hours (cooking time will vary based on the size and varieties of beans). The beans can be cooked through this step and refrigerated until ready to serve, up to 2 days ahead.
To serve, bring the braising liquid to a gentle simmer and stir in the cream. Season the liquid to taste with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.