Monday, March 11, 2013

Smoky Pinto Bean, Red Wine and Bacon Soup

Red Wine Beans with Smoky Bacon

About the only time you find bacon by itself is at breakfast with eggs. The rest of the time, it’s used to enhance other ingredients with its meaty, smoky goodness. There are a lot of foods that bacon pairs well with, particularly ingredients that have complimentary flavors. Bacon also works well with foods that have a fairly neutral flavor, like beans. Combine the earthiness of beans with the salty, smoky flavor of bacon, and you’re going to have a winner.

Bacon from Harvey's Market, Union Market in D.C.
Pinto beans
Dry pinto beans
New York Times Dining Section recipe columnist Melissa Clark hit on just that special combination with her recent recipe for Red Wine Pinto Beans with Smoky Bacon. Although her intention was make a vegetarian beans and wine dish, she later made it with bacon, which she said she liked even better. This is the dish that used the incredible bacon I got from Harvey’s Market in Union Market. Its intense smokiness is what made this a truly stunning bean stew.

Mirepoix, bacon and fresh rosemary
I was pretty faithful to Clark’s recipe, although one thing I did differently was instead of using fresh water to cook the beans, I reserved the water the beans were soaked in (or rather cooked in, since I forgot about soaking them overnight—see below for directions on how to deal with that oversight). I figure why dump out all that good bean flavor when I need water anyway to complete the dish.

Adding the reduced red wine
This was very tasty the night I made it, possibly even better when we had it as leftovers a few days later. This ranks up there with the Jacques Pepin Beef Stew with Red Wine Sauce as among the very best things I’ve cooked this year.

Beans and bacon simmering with red wine added

Red Wine Pinto Beans with Smoky Bacon
Adapted (just slightly) from A Good Appetite recipe by Melissa Clark, New York Times

1 pound dried pinto beans
1/2 pound smoky bacon, diced
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 large sprigs rosemary
Salt, to taste (Clark’s recipe calls for 1 tbsp. coarse kosher salt)
2 cups dry red wine (such as pinot noir)
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving (optional)
Coarsely grated Parmesan, for serving (optional)
Coarsely ground black pepper or red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)

1. Rinse pinto beans and soak them overnight or quick cook them: place beans in a large pot with enough water to cover by 3 or 4 inches (about 2 quarts of water). Bring to boil over medium-high heat then reduce heat to simmer for about 45 minutes. Drain beans, reserving the cooking water for step 3 below.

2. Heat a large dutch over or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in onion, celery, carrots, garlic and rosemary. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Add beans to pot along with salt, to taste. Pour in enough or the reserved bean cooking water to just cover the beans (about 7 to 8 cups). Bring liquid to a boil; reduce heat and simmer gently until beans are just tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

4. While beans are simmering, heat a small saucepan or frying pan over medium heat. Add wine and simmer until it is reduced to 2/3 cup, about 20-30 minutes.

5. Remove and discard rosemary sprigs. Pour reduced wine into beans and simmer for another 10 to 20 minutes to meld flavors and thicken broth. To serve, ladle beans into bowls and serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of parmesan and fresh-ground black pepper.


  1. Fantastic. I'm sure it would've been good on its own, but man oh man, it became exceptional once you added the bacon.

  2. This soup is just amazing. Melissa Clark really shined with this one. I've been telling everyone about this dish.

  3. I am sitting here at work eating lunch and this is my lunch after making it last night. So good. Love the addition of the reduced red wine. That makes a lot of diference and adds a lot to the final flavors here. Thanks for sharing this with me on #FoodieChats.