Cannelini Beans with Clams

(Habichuelas Blancas con Almejas)

  • 8 ounces slab bacon, thickly sliced bacon or ham steak
  • One 16-ounce bag of cannelini beans
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Three to four 8-ounce bottles of clam juice
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed and soaked in a cornmeal bath
  • Fine sea or kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Makes 6 Servings

Remove the rind from the bacon. Set into a cold small skillet and place over low heat. Cook, turning as necessary, until golden brown on all sides.

While the bacon is rendering, place the beans in a large pot. Add the water and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the beans are simmering. Skim the foam off the top from time to time. When the bacon is brown, add it to the beans in one piece.

When the level of water has reached the beans, begin adding the clam juice. Add 2 bottles at first, and continue cooking until the level of the liquid reaches the beans again. Add another bottle and, if the beans still aren’t tender by the time the level of the liquid reaches them, add the last bottle. All in all, the beans should take about 2 hours to cook.

When the beans are tender, heat the olive oil in a large shallow pan with a tight fitting lid. Add the garlic, and when it starts to color, scoop all but 1 ½ cups of the beans out the pot with a slotted spoon or skimmer and into the pan. Reduce the heat to low and add 2 cups of the cooking liquid from the beans. Bring to a boil.

Drain the reserved 1 ½ cups of beans and puree them in a food processor. Add to the beans in the pan. Stir to mix. Cut the slab bacon into 1-inch slices, then crosswise into ½-inch strips. Stir them into the bean mix. The recipe can be prepared to this point up to a day in advance. Refrigerate the beans and heat them to simmering before continuing.

Increase the heat to medium-high. Stir in the clams, cover the pot, and cook until the clams open, about 10 minutes. Check for salt and pepper and sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley.

You can make this with drained and rinsed canned beans, because the sauce from the clams will doctor up the beans. But, please, try it once with dried beans to see the gold standard.

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