Spanish-Style Baked Beans

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It hasn’t been an especially cold winter in Britain, but all the same the best thing to do in winter is snuggle down with a warming, filling dish of food, preferably steaming up into your face, wafting a sweet, spicy aroma into your nose. I went to Spain for the first time two summers ago with one of my best friends and adored the food. The flavours so distinctive, the sizzling pans of paella, the array of little tapas dishes you can gorge on, like a tasting session – heaven for me, as I invariably have trouble deciding on something at restaurants and want to try at least three things.

I was barely eating meat in 2013, but at the time I couldn’t resist a bit of chorizo. And, I can’t lie about it – it was delicious. Almost every meat eater I know loves chorizo; my flatmate used to eat it almost daily. Chorizo is one of the tastiest foods out there, but a few months ago I realised this wasn’t really or else wholly due to it being made of pork. The Spanish are a little obsessed with ham (I remember almost every street I walked down had at least four shops exclusively selling ham), so it’s a bit of a refined art for them, but they are also the elusive harbourers of a sneaky cooking secret – pimentón.

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Or, in English, smoked paprika. Now you might think smoked paprika isn’t a secret, we have it in Britain and you can buy it in the supermarket. But the English hardly ever use it in their cooking. And pimentón is the secret ingredient of chorizo. It gives it that smoky, spicy flavour which is so unique. I no longer eat chorizo but I had the idea a while ago to create some kind of tomato bean sauce with pimentón and decided what better thing to make than spicy, Spanish-style, healthy home-made baked beans.

The thick sauce is so hearty and full of flavour, adding a beefiness which is so lacking in watery baked beans you get in a tin, it gives you a great protein boost and it doesn’t have any of the added sugar. Furthermore, this dish is so versatile – you could have it as a stew, or as a soup or spilling out of a baked potato. It really is delicious, pleasantly spicy and when you put a spoon of it in your mouth it’s rather like tasting chorizo, without the chorizo.

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Serves 4-5:

  • 2 cups/240g/2 tins of haricot beans (I prefer to soak mine overnight and then boil for approximately 2½ hours with a few cloves of garlic and a couple of bay leaves – if preparing your own you’ll need about 180g of dried haricot beans)
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 4 large tomatoes (tomate de pera ideally)
  • 1 Romano red pepper
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 7 sun-dried tomato pieces
  • 1½ teaspoons pimentón/smoked paprika
  • 1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • ¼ cup of water
  • 1 tin of peeled cherry tomatoes
  • 5 teaspoons of tomato purée
  • A small handful of basil
  • A small handful of parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • A pinch of chilli flakes

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If cooking your own haricot beans, soak and boil them as instructed above. When they’re soft, drain any excess water in a colander and set aside to cool. Next, roughly chop your onion and blitz in a food processor until very fine and resembling a thick paste. Add a splash of olive oil to a large pan and turn to a medium heat. Once the pan’s hot tip in the onion, stirring continuously for about 5 minutes. After this, turn the heat down to low and let the onion cook gently (you want as much moisture as possible to evaporate off).

While the onion’s frying chop the tomatoes and red pepper into large chunks. Peel the garlic cloves and again roughly chop. Add all the pieces to a food processor along with the sun-dried tomatoes, pimentón, cayenne pepper, basil, parsley, the tablespoon of olive oil and a good grinding of salt and pepper. Blend this until well combined and it looks like a thick sauce. Once the onion has softened and mostly dried up, add this tomato sauce to the pan, turn up the heat to medium and stir.

After a couple of minutes, add the tin of cherry tomatoes, tomato purée, ¼ cup of water and chilli flakes to the pan as well. Stir until all mixed together then place the lid on top, leaving it to simmer for 10 minutes. At this point, add the drained haricot beans. Stir once more and replace the lid, letting the mixture simmer gently for a further 30 minutes. Over this time the flavours will all come together to really bring out the tomato, peppers, garlic, basil and smoked paprika. Finally serve (with rice to make a casserole or even with pasta if you fancy) and enjoy!

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Squash, Cannellini Bean & Sage Cakes

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Squash is probably my favourite vegetable. Roasted in the oven with a little olive oil, there’s nothing else quite like it. I can easily gorge on it all on its own, but it’s so delicious in things – risotto, curry, soup. I’ve been experimenting a bit and recently made these squash cakes, and they are so good! The soft mushy squash blends perfectly with the mashed beans and the fresh sage to create the tastiest patty, which can also be an amazing veggie burger with a warm bun and some hummus and salsa. These cakes are really versatile, which is ideal.

I bought a couple of delicata squashes when I was on holiday in Cornwall, and I have to say they are too yummy. Butternut squash is the only kind you can lay your hands on in UK supermarkets and most greengrocers but this is so silly because there are so many different types of squashes out there. Red kuri, acorn, kabocha, hubbard, calabaza, blue hokkaido pumpkin, spaghetti… there are LOADS. What’s more, most of the year butternut squashes come all the way from Asia, which isn’t good.

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But these delicatas were grown locally in Cornwall, on an organic farm, making them the most wonderful little things. When baked, the flesh is sweet, nutty and creamy, and the best thing about them is that you don’t have to peel their skin. It’s wholly edible and you hardly notice it once the squash is cooked. All types of winter squash contain high levels of vitamin A and key antioxidants such as alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, which are anti-inflammatory and can help protect your skin and the rest of your body against free radicals. Cannellini beans not only have the yummiest texture, but they’re also packed with protein and have one of the lowest GI scores (31) of all beans. Low GI foods metabolize slowly, providing steady energy for hours, instead of giving your blood sugar levels a short-lived peak before they plummet (as high GI foods do, such as white bread and anything with refined sugar), which often causes abnormal mood swings and a lack of energy. The sage came straight from my garden, the freshest and best, which, along with sun-dried tomatoes and cayenne pepper, gives these cakes that little bit of zesty flavour.

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Makes 5 large squash cakes:

  • 2 cups/300g of squash pieces (about 2 small delicata squashes or 1 large butternut squash)
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup/230g of cannellini beans (either 1 tin or your own soaked and cooked beans)
  • 3 tablespoons of brown rice flour
  • 2 tablespoons of ground almonds
  • A small handful of fresh sage leaves (or 2 teaspoons of dried sage)
  • 6 sun-dried tomato pieces
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • Olive oil
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Salt and pepper

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Preheat your oven to 180°C. Slice your delicata squashes lengthways and scoop out the seedy bit (you can save the seeds and roast them to make a delicious snack) before chopping into approx 1.5inch/4cm cubes. Spread on a baking tray, drizzle with rapeseed oil, stir and toss the pieces so they’re coated evenly and then place them in the oven for about 30 minutes.

While the squash is roasting, chop the onion roughly and push your garlic cloves through a press. Pour a little olive oil into a small pan and place it on a medium heat. Once the oil is hot add the onion, and then after a minute add the crushed garlic. Stir them around for just a minute or so, making sure they don’t burn, until they’ve softened a little. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

At this point, check your squash pieces and give them a toss so they’re cooking nice and evenly. Next drain your cannellini beans and pat them gently dry with a tea towel. Place half of them in a food processor, saving the rest for later. Along with the beans, add the onion and garlic, brown rice flour, ground almonds, sage, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic oil, cayenne pepper, cumin and a good pinch of salt and pepper to the food processor.

Once the squash has softened and is going golden brown, remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Then measure out 2 cups/300g worth of the cubes and add them to the food processor as well (if there’s any left over I love to munch them on their own or you can save them to make a delicious salad). Blend the mixture for about a minute, until it’s all come together – if it seems too dense and isn’t blending well add a little water.

Spoon the batter into a large bowl and then add the whole cannellini beans. Mix them gently into the squash mush, making sure they don’t get crushed. Now you’re ready to make the cakes! Scoop out a large handful of the mixture and shape into burger-shaped patties. I found it makes 5 large cakes but if you like them smaller then you can make 7 or 8 with the mix. Once all the squash batter has been used up, pour a little olive oil into a ramekin and smother your hands in it. Then gently rub your hands over each of the cakes, making sure they’re coated all over with just a little oil.

Place the cakes onto a baking tray (I also like to brush oil over the tray to help prevent them from sticking) and then bake in the oven at 180°C for about 45 minutes. After 15 minutes carefully turn them over (they might have got a bit stuck to the pan), doing so again at 25 and 35 minutes so they turn a beautiful bronzy brown all over. Remove from the oven, let them cool a little and then serve with salad or some homemade potato wedges (or in a bread bun) and enjoy!