Diana Henry who writes in the Daily Telegraph is a favourite of mine and I have a couple of her recipe books which are enjoyable to read as well as use. She manages to combine practical, economical family cooking with a twist of something unusual and different, quirky even! This is what she wrote about baked beans:
Suppers from the store cupboard
A bit of irreverence is very enjoyable. We’re all supposed to eat fresh and seasonal, and cook from scratch. But there is a shelf in my larder that thrills my rebellious soul. It is stocked with tins. Tinned tomatoes are a total necessity. (and nobody thinks you shouldn’t use these, because Italians do it, right?) But there’s an impressive supply of tinned beans, too. They are for emergencies because sometimes, despite my job, I forget to think about the evening meal and have to throw something together. I’ll do a bean and vegetable soup (even better if there’s a rind of parmesan to throw in the pot). In winter it’s finished with parsley, in summer with basil. Or there’s that old trattoria standby, cannellini bean, tuna and tomato salad (with plenty of parsley, good olive oil, chopped anchovies and shaved red onion).
I love this what-can-I-rustle-up kind of cooking. It depends on improvisation, spontaneity. But the tinned-bean selection isn’t there just because I’m a bit disorganised. It’s because I like them. Purists may be horrified – and tinned beans are certainly more expensive than dried – but I use them a lot. Run out of cannellini beans? It’s a crisis. Tinned beans are not always a good alternative to dried. Dishes such as cassoulet, where the beans become deliciously imbued with fat, spices, herbs and stock, have to be made with dried. But some things I always make with tinned beans. Chilli (because I can never remember what the rule is about cooking dried kidney beans). Creamy flageolets with garlic, cream and parsley to go with lamb chops (not Michelin-star but yummy – the kind of thing a chic but harassed Frenchwoman would make). Chickpea mash, the beans crushed with sautéed onions, loads of garlic, cumin, lemon and a dollop of harissa (I can’t tell the difference between home-cooked chickpeas and good canned ones anyway).
Quickly throwing a dish together gives me a real buzz. I’m getting a bit of help but I still have to do the fun part – seasoning, tasting. It’s the sort of cooking most of us do when we start out. I didn’t begin by making lobster à l’amoricaine. I started by making spicy beans with sautéed onions, peppers and a tin of haricots. My level of cheating won’t get me sent to foodie Siberia – I’m not suggesting you use tinned potatoes (not even French ones). The easy ‘get-it-on-the-table-quickly’ cooking that tinned beans make possible is a thrill. It turns the ordinary into something special. So stock up with pride.