I own a crockpot, but until last weekend, I’d never used it to cook anything. Oh, I certainly use it, but as a buffet server or warmer for hot dishes like soup and gumbo. Perhaps it’s the plethora of shortcut crockpot recipes heavily reliant on canned soups, dry soup mix, and other downright awful, sodium-laden ingredients that steered me away from slow cooker cooking. (I refuse to apologize about not wanting to eat an unbrowned chuck roast swaddled in onion soup mix and Campbell’s golden mushroom.)
A $2.29 can of beans finally ended my crockpot cooking avoidance. I enjoy plump, Italian cannellini beans (see here and here), and the price of canned cannellinis just went up to $2.79….for beans? Are you kidding me? Most other canned beans are in the sub-$1 price range; I can’t understand why the cannellinis are more expensive. They’re not imported, organic, or “special” in any way I can discern from the label or contents; my best guess is the beans aren’t as popular as other varieties, so less turnover and competition leads to higher prices. (But I’m no bean economist; maybe the raw materials are, in fact, more expensive than black beans or red kidneys.)
To cook the beans in a slow cooker, I soaked them in plain water overnight, then put them into the slow cooker on high, added 2 tsp dried Italian seasoning blend, and waited. The beans swelled and finally came to a slow simmer after an hour. I stirred the beans a few times and added salt after the beans were mostly tender, around the three-hour mark. At four hours, the beans were completely soft, with a few broken beans (probably from my uncecessary stirring). Honestly, I should have turned them off sooner, as the beans ended up far softer than the canned equivalent.
Three dollars’ worth of dried beans yielded the equivalent of six cans, a savings of $13.74. Factor in a few pennies in seasonings and electricity, and I still came out way ahead. One drawback to the process: the beans were cooked in just 4 hours, so it is impractical to cook the beans during a workday when away from home. Still, the process was a bit easier than the stovetop method, as I never had to add water, adjust the heat, or (technically, though I did it anyway) stir.
Now to make some tuna and white bean salad for today’s lunch…
I use my slow cooker for two things: cooking beans and making stock. It works great for both.
You need a fancier crock pot, which still probably won’t cost you more than $40. Mine has a digital timer, which adjusts the heat down to a “warm” setting once the cooking finishes. That way you can let them cook during the day.
Hmm, a crockpot with a timer: sounds like a reason to go shopping. I’ll have to research crockpot stock. If it works half as well as the beans, it’s worth a go.
Yeah, what is up with the expensive cannellini? This is one of my all time favorite cool-weather recipes, and would make good use of some of your bounty-o-beans. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/White-Bean-Chicken-Chili-61
I could go for a crockpot with a timer. Let us know what you find. And crockpot stock? There’s a good idea.
Thanks for your blog! Cannellini beans are the best-selling (canned) bean right now, owing to so many of the TV-chefs using them in recipes, etc. I remember years ago, garbanzos got jacked up for the same reason. In time, the thrill will be gone and the price will settle down. I see recently that San Marzano canned tomatoes are popping up on a lot of the cooking shows. Even Guy Fieri is pushing them and he can’t cook! So maybe the SM tomatoes will settle cannellini beans back into the realm of normal pricing.
Isn’t it funny how ingredient popularity waxes and wanes? Maybe we should start a campaign to popularize the navy bean, thus bringing down the cannellini’s price. (Dried lentils & garbanzos are still the cheapest ones here locally.)
Catching up after a long absence from your blog. On the all-day bean cooking issue — cook ’em on low. They hold together better, and you can cook them all day. Been there, done it (with a hambone!).
A hambone makes anything edible. That and smoked ham hocks!