Provencal Tomato and Bean Gratin
By Martha Rose Shulman
1 pound (2 heaped cups) chick peas, borlotti beans or pinto beans, washed, picked over and soaked for six hours or overnight
2 whole cloves
4 to 6 large garlic cloves (to taste), 2 crushed, the rest minced
A bouquet garni made with a couple of sprigs each parsley and thyme, a bay leaf and a Parmesan rind
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 28-ounce cans chopped tomatoes, with juice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of cayenne
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Gruyère, or a combination of Gruyère and Parmesan (2 ounces)
1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1. Cut one of the onions in half, and stick a clove into each half. Chop the other onion. Drain the soaked beans and combine with 2 quarts water in a large pot. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam, then add the halved onion, the crushed garlic cloves and the bouquet garni. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Add salt to taste, and continue to simmer for another 30 to 60 minutes, until the beans are tender but not mushy. Remove from the heat, remove and discard the onion and the bouquet garni, and drain over a bowl. Measure out 3 cups of the cooking liquid, taste and adjust salt. Set aside.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, and add the chopped onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes. Add the remaining garlic, and stir together until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, oregano, cayenne and salt to taste. Cook, stirring often, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and smell very fragrant. Stir in the beans and 3 cups of their cooking broth (refrigerate the rest if you are making this ahead; you may need it for thinning out). Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, until the mixture is thick and fragrant. Stir often so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Add pepper, taste and adjust salt and garlic.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 3-quart gratin or baking dish. Spoon the tomatoes and beans into the baking dish. Combine the breadcrumbs and cheese in a bowl, and toss with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle in an even layer over the beans. Bake 30 minutes, or until the top is browned and the gratin is bubbling. Serve hot or warm.
Yield: Serves eight to 12.
Advance preparation: The beans can be cooked a day or two ahead through step 1. The dish benefits from being made one or two days ahead through step 2.