Last Night’s Dinner: Pinto beans with slow-roast tomatoes and goats cheese

Thursday 15 September

Before the recipe, a quick word about trust and cooking, as it brings some influence to bear on our pinto beans with slow-roast tomatoes and goats cheese.

Trust in the food we eat is one of the most natural, early, primal, comforting, rewarding, continuing experiences we have in life. Hopefully. It’s learned, hopefully, as a baby, with the first food coming straight from our mothers themselves. Then we learn to trust again, as the foods we are provided with begin to vary and as we begin to choose from different options ourselves. Our palates, hopefully, develop in a comforting, safe environment – little wonder many people have a strong emotional attachment to the notion that their mum, grannie, dad, auntie, next door neighbour… whoever… could make food more comforting than anyone else. That’s not always true, of course, but it’s a widely held experience. Even if your childhood carers were useless cooks you will have found some way of trusting that the food you ate could do its job of nourishing you. It’s probably one of the reasons McDonalds et al like to get to kids early and give gifts with the meal – that equation of food plus treat plus fun plus comfort is a powerful one that will hold into adulthood.

We carry this into later life. A favourite restaurant? Probably a new variant of that McDonalds equation – a place you can go back to, where you can trust that the food will provide what you’re looking for, where you don’t have to worry, where you can relax. A favourite recipe book? It’ll be one you can turn to that has instructions you trust, where, miraculously, you can follow it step by step and what goes onto the plate bears comparison with the picture on the page and brings a smile to your friends or family.

It’s when you start going off piste, turning to a new recipe book, visiting a new restaurant with unfamiliar dishes and, specifically for us, making a recipe up for yourself, that trust often disappears and food becomes a little more fraught. Just as someone with a limited diet and palate might get nervous when presented with a plate of unusual ingredients, so a decent cook can lose the plot completely when asked to deviate from their usual repertoire.

So why all this preamble? Well, it’s to explain how a rather tasty and comforting dish like pinto beans with slow-roast tomatoes and goats cheese can come about, off the top of your head, without being scary. Let’s trace the genesis:

We wanted a dish of some savoury beans, because we like that kind of thing from time to time. A quick flick through some favourite recipe books brought no inspiration, for some reason. There were recipes for borlotti beans, butter beans, recipes we’d already tried… but nothing new or for pinto beans. No matter. Pinto beans are pretty much like borlotti beans and one recipe suggested (I think we’ve done it before) cooking the beans then grating the zest of a lemon into them to pep them up. So, okay let’s do that. Beans, cooked and drained, kept warm, plus lemon zest, hmm, a clove of crushed garlic and a tablespoon of olive oil? Well, oil plus garlic plus lemon is pretty much a vinaigrette, so that should work. Season. Add some parsley for a little freshness? Okay. And what about a chopped red chilli? Beans and chilli? That’s common. Okay. Done.

But what about the topping? Well, baked beans come in a tomato sauce, so what about tomato? Okay, but how do you make it a bit posher? Hmm, slow roast halved tomatoes on a very low heat for a couple of hours until they’re semi-dried. We’ve seen this done in another recipe somewhere, so okay, yes. And what about that third constituent ingredient that brings things all together? Well, who hasn’t sprinkled grated cheese on their baked beans? And goats cheese is great with tomatoes – and, since they’re in the oven we could put the goats cheese on top of the tomatoes…

And so… there’s nothing in this recipe that is strange, out of the ordinary or particularly unexpected. All of it is variants of other things we know and trust. And yet it was completely made up, from the top of our little hungry heads. And it tasted delicious.

Trust: bring it into the kitchen now. It’s a vital ingredient.

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3 Comments to “Last Night’s Dinner: Pinto beans with slow-roast tomatoes and goats cheese”

  1. the pinto beans look delicious, thanks for the inspiration

  2. It definitely is all about experimenting.. sometimes my wacky creations work really well and other times, not so much. But I agree, this looks great. I made a bean salad with roasted tomatoes, corn in a balsamic dressing which was really good, too. 🙂

  3. I found this post through a search on WordPress: I love goat’s cheese! And the ideas in this dish sound so good, I shall try it myself. Thank you 🙂

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