Canned beans are, perhaps, the most convenient of convenience foods: an honest (and still wholesome) timesaver for vegetarians and protein-seekers alike. Canned beans allow us to throw a last-minute bean into any dish, at any time. Fantastic! Knowing this, we still owe it to ourselves to look at a dried bean, once in a while. Beans that we soak ourselves (overnight), and cook ourselves (2 hours), feature a much different texture than canned beans -- inarguably. They’re soft, deeply flavored, and heartily satisfying. I made the “Sausages with White Beans in Tomato Sauce,” from the October 2009 issue of Bön Appetit, and was comforted by my beans, on many levels.

So once you commit to soaking your beans overnight, you’ll get to enjoy their lovely scent as they simmer with the sage for 2 hours. Even the sound of the simmering is soothing and warming. This cooking exercise will make you feel like time = tastiness = love. Really. I added another 2 cups water to the bean-cooking pot after 1 hour of cooking.

I cooked my sweet Italian turkey sausage for 9 minutes. Once everything was in the pot, I needed only 13 minutes for my stew to thicken. I added 4 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. black pepper to the pot. Your diners might not know what hit them here, but happy sighs will prevail, for sure.

And here’s another winning recipe: the “Apple-Cheddar-Bacon Bread,” from Cuisine at Home, September 2009. Everyone wanted more of this moist, cake-like loaf. I used a metal loaf dish, rather than glass, and this worked fine for me. My chosen bacon remains uncured smoked duck; it was crisp in 7 minutes. Another taste sensation is the super-sharp Canadian cheddar that I used. There’s a lot of great flavor here. I baked for a total of 60 minutes. Get ready to go crazy with the sweet/salty flavors of this magnificent loaf.

PRICES
Dried Cannellini Beans (1 lb.) = $2.15

RECIPES: say “I love you” with beans, sausage, and bread
PREP TIMES: beans need an overnight of soaking and hours of cooking; bread needs an hour to cook
TASTES: soft beans and sausage will pleasure your tongue, in their tomatoey sauce; sweet apple and sharp cheese and bacon sit proudly in a cakey bread

Next time I will cook a “Tuna Noodle Casserole,” this one from the October 2009 issue of Everyday Food (recipe below), which incorporates a “Bechamel Sauce.” I will also prepare a “Balsamic Roasted Vegetable Salad,” from All Recipes. Come back to my site on Sunday, April 4, to witness my meal.

Tuna Noodle Casserole
Everyday Food, October 2009
Serves 6

coarse salt and ground pepper
10 oz. green beans, stem ends trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
8 oz. gemelli or other short pasta
Bechamel Sauce
10 oz. canned solid white albacore tuna packed in water, drained
5 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into large pieces
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter melted

In a large saucepan of well-salted boiling water, cook green beans until almost tender, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer green beans to a colander (reserving water). Rinse with cold water until cool; drain. Return water in pan to a boil; add pasta and cook 2 to 3 minutes short of al dente; drain and rinse pasta.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine pasta, green beans, and bechamel; season with salt and pepper. Gently fold in tuna.

In a food processor, pulse bread until coarse crumbs form. Transfer to a bowl and stir in butter. Transfer tuna mixture to a 2-quart baking dish and top with breadcrumbs. Bake until sauce is bubbling and breadcrumbs are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.