While they’re usually served hot, for a picnic the baked beans come from the refrigerator (or a can, and I love those, too) but lose their chill by the time the food gets put out to eat. And it’s those not-too-cold but unheated beans I really love.
Belgian food scientists discovered that our ability to taste drops when food gets hotter than our body temperature, and that we’re best able to enjoy the salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami flavors in the relatively balmy zone from about 68 to 86°F. Or what we like to call room temperature.
And while it’s true that food safety specialists call the range between 40 and 140°F the danger zone, they also allow food to sit out for a couple of hours. Call it the narrow window of deliciousness, but that’s where I think baked beans taste the best.
For the shopping list
medium red onions, chopped
stalks celery, about 1 cup chopped
red bell pepper
chopped fresh mint leaves
From our shop
$18 - Sicily - Italy
From the kitchen
Large sauce pan + lid
Large Mixing Bowl
In a large pot add about 5 cups of water and a teaspoon of salt to the dried baby lima beans, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the beans are tender, about 90 minutes. Add water to keep the beans covered if needed.
While the beans are cooking, make the pickled onion and celery so they can sit for awhile. Combine one chopped onion and the celery in a heatproof bowl and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Let them sit for about 5 minutes, then drain. Mix 2 tablespoons of honey and a teaspoon of salt with 1/2 cup of vinegar and add to the onion-celery mix. (If your beans are already cooked, let these sit for at least 15 minutes).
Heat a heavy skillet on medium heat to cook the other red onion with a pinch of salt in 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is deeply caramelized, at least 30 minutes. Add a little water if the onion looks like it’s burning but isn’t completely browned.
Roast the red bell pepper. If you have a gas range you can put the pepper directly on a lit burner and use tongs to turn it until the skin is mostly blackened. Or roast it whole in a 350°F oven until the skin is beginning to darken, about 30 minutes. Let cool, pull out the stem and seed core, and peel off as much of the outer skin as possible (it’s fine to leave some if it doesn’t come off easily). Chop into roughly 1/2 inch pieces. Save as much of the liquid from the pan as possible; a few seeds are okay, too.
Use a large bowl to combine the cooked lima beans, the caramelized onion (and any oil from cooking them), and the roasted red pepper, along with any of its cooking liquid. Drain and reserve about half of the vinegar-honey mix (save it for salads) from the pickled onion and celery, then add the vegetables. Add the chopped mint, mix well, taste, and add salt if needed. Serve at room temperature.
Poach albacore in olive oil and you may never open a can of tuna again