My mom always loved to make beans. Typically, she would get a can of black beans and “doctor them up.” She always used more olive oil than you’d think necessary. “That’s what makes them good,” she’d say. But she also loved to soak some dry beans and get some flavor going. I took what I learned from her -- and from my own experimentation -- to create a pot of beans that can be used with just about any kind of meal.

Basically, this is a generic pot of beans that, once cooked, can be manipulated to eat in multiple settings … from Italian to Mexican and more, depending on what seasonings you have available. When I made this recipe the last time, I was listening to Chris Stapleton's Traveller.

INGREDIENTS
1 lb bag of dry pinto beans
2 medium carrots chopped
2 celery stalks chopped
1 medium onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 bay leaf
1 smoked pork shank
2 Tablespoons or more of olive oil

DIRECTIONS
First, sort your beans and make sure there are no small pebbles or stones. Rinse them, then cover beans in a container or cooking pot with water to soak for at least six hours. Pour off water and place beans in a thick-bottomed pot, like a Dutch oven. Cover with water, at least two inches above the top of the beans. Place pork shank in the middle. Make sure most of the meat is covered by the water. (I typically push it down into the beans.) Turn on high heat until it starts to boil. Add bay leaf and back the heat down to medium-low and simmer for about an hour. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot.

In a separate skillet, cook the veggies. Start by heating the pan on high heat. Add oil and coat the cooking surface of the pan. Add aromatics to the hot oil and cook until translucent. Or you can take it a step further and let them get some caramelization/color on them. This is always a good step for a little extra flavor. Add veggies to the beans and stir them in. Simmer until beans are tender and the meat is falling off the bone.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Serving suggestions for an Italian flair:

Fill your bowl with hot beans and a few pieces of the meat. Add some chopped parsley, some grated parmesan, 10-15 toasted pine nuts, a few oven roasted tomatoes, and finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon. Serve with some crusty Italian bread.

Serving suggestion for a Mexican flair:

Fill your bowl with hot beans and a few pieces of the meat. Add some chopped cilantro, a small pinch of dried Mexican oregano, a small pinch of ground cumin, and finish with a squeeze of fresh lime and your favorite Mexican hot sauce. Serve with some tortilla chips.


Frank Solivan fronts the Dirty Kitchen band. Their latest album -- Family, Friends, and Heroes -- will be released on March 4.

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