feta-harissa bean bake

When my sister was in elementary school, she wrote a book about a story my grandmother told her. It was about my Nana’s childhood during the Depression, and the book was called “Beans for Dinner” — a title meant to indicate just how bad things were.

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Now it makes me laugh a little, because “beans for dinner” could accurately describe my plate 95 percent of the time, including this meal. Of course, Nana and her family weren’t eating beans with coconut milk or za’atar or, in this case, harissa.

It’s week 13, one-quarter of the way through 2012. The calendar says (barely) spring. The thermostat says summer. As I hang up my Northwestern sweatshirt until football starts this fall, swap out sandals for boots, and push past the crowds of cherry blossom tourists on the Metro, it’s time for my standby dinner of beans-with-greens to acknowledge the change of seasons too.

Happily, this dish wouldn’t be out of place at a barbecue. There’s no stewy sauce. The feta adds a bright, summery note. The kale is crisp.

Bring it on, Washington heat. I’ll be here, eating beans for dinner.

Feta-Harissa Bean Bake with Kale

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks, who adapted it from Food and Wine.

This was my first time working with fresh beans, and while I highly recommend them — I used some dried giant limas from Goya, and they cooked up beautifully — you could sub two cans of any kind of white bean (the bigger the better) if you want a quick weeknight meal.

1 pound of large, dried white beans (corona, giant limas, gigantes…), picked over and rinsed, or 2 15-ounce cans white beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pinches red pepper flakes
2 pinches salt
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons harissa
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
1 cup kale, finely chopped, stems removed
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
2/3 cup breadcrumbs

Pesto:
1 medium clove of garlic, minced
1/3 cup fresh parsley or cilantro, finely chopped
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
big pinch of salt

If not working with canned beans: In a large saucepan, cover the beans with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil. Boil for two minutes, then turn off the heat, cover with an airtight lid, and let sit for two hours. Taste the beans; if they’re tender, salt and pepper the water heavily and bring back to a boil. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until beans are as done as you like.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and garlic, pepper flakes and salt over medium heat. Cook for about a minute, then add the harissa. Sizzle for another minute and pour in the crushed tomatoes and oregano. Stir and let simmer for a few minutes until the flavors are combined.

Toss the tomato sauce, kale and beans in a 9×13″ baking dish, or a casserole dish or Dutch oven. Sprinkle with feta. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the cheese is melting and beginning to brown

Meanwhile, toast the breadcrumbs in a skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil until brown. Combine the finely chopped parsley or cilantro and garlic with olive oil and stir, or put in a blender or food processor until combined.

When the beans are done baking, top with breadcrumbs. Drizzle with the homemade pesto.

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