time on your hands

Sometimes, on the weekend when I have more free time on my hands and I know I'm going to be in and around the house I like to cook something that takes a really, really long time. Last Christmas, I bought my husband Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's (don't you love that name!) The River Cottage Meat Book. I have been meaning to cook something out of it for a long time. I am a reluctant meat eater so I was drawn to the more vegetarian-friendly recipes at the back of the book. The recipe for Boston Baked Beans looked rich and satisfying and not too meaty. Perfect! Good thing I started early because five hours later (not to mention the 12 hours the beans spent soaking overnight) I was finished. The result was rich, sweet, soft and creamy.

Boston Baked Beans

400g piece of salt pork, pancetta or unsmoked bacon

500g dried white haricot beans, soaked overnight

50g soft brown sugar

3 tbsp treacle (molasses in our part of the world)

1 tbsp English mustard

4 cloves

8-10 pickling onions, peeled but left whole

Salt and Pepper

Drain and rinse the beans, then put them in a flameproof casserole with enough fresh water to cover them by about 5 cm. Bring to the boil and boil hard for at least 10 minutes. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for about 1 hour, until the beans are tender but not completely soft. Remove from heat.

Cut the bacon into 5 cm cubes, leaving the rind on, and add to the beans. Stir in the brown sugar, black treacle and mustard. Press each clove into an onion and add, with the extra onions, to the pot. Season with pepper, but no salt at this stage as the bacon will make it salty. If necessary, add a little hot water so that the beans are covered.

Replace the lid on the casserole. Place in a low oven (140C/284F) and bake for about 3 hours. Then remove the lid and drag some of the bacon chunks to the top. Return, uncovered, to the oven, for a further hour. This helps to brown the bacon and thicken the sauce.

Check the seasoning, then serve the beans on their own, with crusty bread (or toast), as a snack or light meal. Or serve with sausages and mash. These baked beans will keep in a sealed jar or Tupperware container in the fridge for 2 weeks.