Feijão preto con conchiglioni au gratin (I suppose)

My friend J always has issues, one way or another, and just recently he’s decided to add vegetarianism to his collection. Ah, well. He came round to dinner before Christmas, and the weather being cold, I thought I’d better serve food, which vegetables usually aren’t. This is the result.

120g of black turtle beans
One largish onion
3 cloves of garlic
100g or so of tomato purée from a tube
A level teaspoonful of chipotle paste

8 baby plum tomatoes
One red pepper
Two or three sticks of celery
250g of conchiglioni [dried pasta, not fresh]

Soft breadcrumbs

Parmesan, bought in a lump and grated

Soak the beans. The books say “4 hours”, but it’s less bother to do it overnight.

Drain the beans, put them into a saucepan, put in enough water to cover them by an inch BUT NO SALT, bring them to the boil and simmer them for two hours. Stir them from time to time in case they try to stick to the bottom of the pan, and add a little more water if needed.

Peel and chop the onion. Peel the garlic and chop it finely.

Go to the market to look for mallards for Christmas and, failing to find any, get a duck instead. Noticing some baby plum tomatoes (about as cheap as you’d expect them to be in mid-December), get a few. Get a pepper while you’re about it. Come home.

Halve the tomatoes. Slice the pepper and cut the slices into short strips. An elegant chef would have peeled the pepper beforehand, I suppose. Chop the celery into half-inch pieces. (I only used the celery because I had it there).

When your friend arrives, put the oven on to 180° or so. Boil the conchiglioni for the time it says on the packet (I had been planning to use conchiglie, but I saw their bigger cousins and they looked fun).

In a big frying pan, fry the onions and garlic gently until they’re transparent. Take a tablespoonful of the beans and mash them into the onions and garlic with the back of the spoon. Repeat until all the beans are used up. Mix in the tomato purée and the chipotle paste. Add salt to taste. Take the pan off the heat and mix in the tomatoes, the strips of pepper and the pieces of celery. They will keep most of their texture while the dish is in the oven and they’ll add some juiciness to the final result, which otherwise might be a bit monotonous texturally.

Now put the conchiglioni and the bean mixture together into a casserole. It seems best to put a layer of pasta and a layer of beans, mix them, and then do the next layers.

Mix the breadcrumbs with the grated parmesan and put a thick layer of them on top of the casserole, covering everything. My guess is that it was rather more than half an inch thick.

Put the casserole into the oven, without its lid, and bake for half an hour.

This dish ought to serve more than two people but it was delicious and the weather was cold and one thing led to another. No pictures, I’m afraid, but if I do it again then I’ll take some, because the colours go so well together. Purple-black from the beans, off-white pasta, yellowish and brownish crust, and the odd bit of red from the tomatoes and pepper.

Origins: the feijão preto recipe comes from The Book of Latin American Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz. I added the pepper because I wanted to vary the texture, the baby tomatoes because I saw them, and the celery because it was lying around. The bake-with-pasta technique is something I’ve seen used with shellfish in a white sauce, and I thought it might work here.