Some days, life looks like the above picture. It looks, and feels, like the view of a Shell Garage out of a cold stone window. Some days, the sky stays a stubborn grey from morning till night, and I find it very difficult to be jolly on such days. Last Monday was one such day, and boy, did it feel like a Monday. I moped around most of the day, making a half hearted attempt at doing some work but mostly just wearing my fluffy polar bear dressing gown & feeling grumpy, until dinner time. And few things can lift the spirits like dinner time, you know? Since I didn't have a lot to do I decided to make a recipe I always return to on such days: an italian bean casserole. I put James Taylor on, switched on all the lights & dedicated an hour of my time to making something delicious and filling and good. And I know of no better (or cheaper) happy pill than that.
Now - I warn you. This is not good looking food. When I was reading stuff about "how to start a food blog", all of the advice was like, "take good photos!", "make it look delicious!", "why don't you have a photography degree!", etc. But seriously, I challenge anyone who makes this casserole to take a semi-decent photo of it - I tell you, it cannot be done. But that doesn't really matter because you'll hopefully be too busy helping yourself to seconds to even have time for an instagram.
This is the sort of food I like to make for myself if I've eaten nothing but pizza and sweets for a few days, and my body's craving nutrients. This thing is packed full of protein and vitamins and minerals and antioxidants and all that good stuff - in fact, I'm pretty sure it delivers most (if not all) of your 5 a day in one generous serving. It's a recipe I return to time and time again, since it's easy, cheap, filling, and - most importantly - it's totally delicious.
To make 3-4 generous servings, you will need:
- 1 x 400g tin of butter beans.
- 1 x 400g tin of borlotti beans.
- 3 sticks of celery.
- 3 leeks.
- 4 carrots.
- 2 garlic cloves.
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
- 100ml white wine.
- 700ml vegetable stock.
- 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes.
- 1 lemon.
- A handful of fresh thyme.
1. Heat the oil in a large casserole or saucepan over a medium heat.
2. Chop up the carrots and celery into bitesize chunks, and don't bother to peel the carrots unless you really, really feel that you must. There's so much good stuff contained in the peel, and you really can't taste it once it's cooked. Throw them into the pan and cook for about 6 or 7 minutes.
3. Wash & peel the leeks and chop them up into chunks. Add these to the pan & cook for a further 3 minutes.
4. Peel & chop the garlic cloves, then add them into the pan along with 100ml of white wine. And honestly, don't bother spending too much money on the wine. Use whatever you have left over from your last house party, or just get the cheapest thing in Tesco - it really doesn't matter. Anything dry will do the trick.
5. Give it all a good stir and leave the wine to cook out & reduce for a few minutes.
6. Tip in both tins of tomatoes, the zest of one lemon, and season well. Ain't no such thing as too much seasoning.
7. Add in 700ml of vegetable stock & bring to the boil, then give it a good stir and turn the heat back down. Leave to the simmer on a low-medium heat for about 40 minutes, stirring every now & then when you can be bothered.
8. Drain the beans & add them into the pan, and cook for about 5 more minutes.
9. Remove from the heat & stir in the thyme and the juice of your lemon. Add a little more seasoning if necessary, and serve garnished with additional thyme leaves.
Serving this with large hunks of warm, crusty bread will obviously make it go further, but this is also great to just curl up with underneath a blanket and watch something mindlessly cheery & delightful. Like Strictly. Is anybody else watching Strictly? I love it. I am unashamed. It's like a giant hug from a fabulously camp uncle, and it brings me nothing but joy. But I digress.
This is essentially the perfect dish for this time of year, where it's cold and dreary and miserable, but not too cold yet. The lemon & the wine give it a lovely sharpness reminiscent of summer eats, but you've also got the heartiness of the pulses which make it feel like a legit meal. And also, vegetables. Tomatoes. Plants. Mmmm. Why aren't you making this already?!
Also: it freezes like a dream, so it's perfect for those of you who have your lives together enough to always have wholesome ready made meals available at a moment's notice. I can but dream of reaching such heights.