It’s amazing how much people appreciate the offering of a humble pot of home-baked beans at a summer barbecue. They go beautifully with any and all picnic fare, and everybody loves them! Yes, you have to think ahead a bit, but the recipe is totally simple, and all the cooking time is unattended. However, if you don’t have time to do from-scratch beans, I’ve also offered a recipe for a pantry bean bake that no one will turn down.

MOLASSES-BAKED MAINE YELLOW-EYES

Yellow-eyed beans have a mellow, earthy flavor that persists through the long simmering, and their texture is smooth and creamy while still holding its shape. Of course, you can use any number of other beans in this recipe, including soldier, Jacob’s cattle beans, Great Northern or even smaller pea beans (although they would mark you as a Boston type).

This recipe is my tried-and-true formula, and the beans come out perfect every time. Although both molasses and maple syrup are used as sweeteners, the dark flavor of molasses predominates. Ketchup is one traditional bean condiment, but I also like them topped with chunky tomato salsa.

Servings: Six to eight as a main course; more as a side dish

1 pound dried yellow-eye or other similar medium-sized beans such as Great Northern, rinsed and picked over

1½ teaspoons salt

1/3 cup molasses

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 teaspoons dry mustard

1 teaspoon powdered ginger

¼ pound salt pork, scored up to but not through the rind

1 large onion, peeled and scored with a criss-cross through the root end

Boiling water

Soak the beans in water to cover for 4 hours or overnight. Drain. (You may cook the beans unsoaked – they will take a bit longer to soften, and may break apart more unevenly.)

In a large soup pot, bring 8 cups of water to the boil. Add the soaked or unsoaked beans and 1 teaspoon of the salt, and return to a boil.

Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until beans are just tender, 1½ to 2 hours. Drain in a colander, discarding cooking water.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bean pot or casserole dish, stir together molasses, maple syrup, vinegar, mustard, ginger and remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Add beans and enough boiling water to cover by about ½ inch. Push the salt pork and onion into the beans. Cover pot with a lid or foil, and bake for 3 hours. Check the water level every 45 minutes or so, and if it has cooked away, top off with more boiling water so that the beans remain soupy.

Uncover, stir to bring salt pork to the top of the beans, and cook for a final 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the sauce thickens and the salt pork browns.

PANTRY BEAN BAKE WITH RUM AND BROWN SUGAR

I heartily endorse this version of doctored-up canned pinto beans in a spirited rum-enhanced sauce, which bakes in about an hour. (P.S.: You can even leave out the rum, and the beans are still utterly delicious.)

Servings: Six to eight as a main course; more as a side dish

1 tablespoon olive oil

1½ cups chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon dry mustard

2 to 3 teaspoons chili powder (see note)

2 teaspoons ground cumin

One 8-ounce can tomato sauce

¼ cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup dark rum or bourbon

Four 14½-ounce cans pinto beans, drained

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, mustard, chili powder and cumin, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add tomato sauce, sugar and rum, and bring to a boil, stirring. Transfer to a 3-quart baking dish or oven-proof casserole dish, add the beans, and stir in 2 cups water. Cover with foil or a lid.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Uncover, stir and continue to bake until sauce is reduced and somewhat syrupy, 45 to 50 minutes. If the beans have absorbed all the liquid, add a bit more water. They should remain slightly soupy. Stir in vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. (The casserole can be baked several hours ahead. Reheat until bubbly.)

NOTE: Use the larger amount of chili powder if you like things spicier.

 

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Lobster!” (Storey, 2012). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at: facebook.com/brookedojny