Return of Bean Friday: Bean Broth or “Tuscan Crazy Water”

Yep, Bean Friday rears its head again–or is it Frugal Friday?

Whatever it is, I’ve got this thrifty idea for you. I read about in The Italian Country Table, by Lynn Rossetto Casper. We’ve had this book for years and years, and it has some really good recipes in it that have become standards in our house, along just with a couple of duds. I’d not paid attention to her entry on “Crazy Water” before, but by her introduction, I realized it was just the sort of thrifty cooking we’ve been focusing on here during Bean Fest. The only question for me was whether this recipe was a keeper or a dud, because it sounded pretty strange. The truth is it’s sort of in between.

According to Caspar, Tuscans like to cook beans with plenty of aromatics in lots of water, and then reserve that water as a broth. The bean broth is called Acqua Pazza, crazy water.

“This soup is a revelation” is how she opens the recipe. And later she claims it could be mistaken for chicken broth. That might be the problem–I was expecting twinkling lights and perhaps a chorus from a boys’ choir when I tasted it. What I got was a swallow of thin broth which tastes mostly like warm water when it first hits the tongue, but really does have a very nice, savory aftertaste. It’s delicate.

Caspar suggests serving it in bowls with croutons. I don’t have that much faith in it. But it is a decent vegetarian stock. It goes very well over rice, and I suspect it would be an excellent broth for cooking rice and other grains. I am fond of the waste-not, want-not philosophy behind it, and also the time saving angle. You can make a pot of beans for dinner, and end up with a supply of broth as a side benefit.

So now that all of those qualifications are done, this is how you make the broth:

First, you can’t use just any dried bean. Use light beans, like cannellini, pinto or borlotti. She particularly recommends chickpeas. I used pintos. Don’t use any dark or earthy bean, like black beans or black eyed peas. For fresh beans, she recommends cranberry beans or scarlet runners.

Basically you’re making a pot of beans with extra water. Simple stuff. I doubled her recipe, which only called for 1 cup of dried beans. I soaked 2 cups of dried pintos overnight. The next day I drained them and put them in a heavy pot and poured 2 inches of fresh water over them. To that water I added:

  • 8 fresh sage leaves
  • 6 good sized cloves of crushed garlic
  • 1 medium onion sliced in half and studded with 4 whole cloves

(Just fyi, her recipe calls for 8 sage leaves per 1 cup of dried beans. I chose not to double the sage.)

Throw these seasonings in with the beans. Bring the pot to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Don’t stir. This is supposed to make the broth clear. (It didn’t really help in my case). Foam might appear on top of the water–it did for me, but it vanished by the end of the cooking time.

Simmer the beans on low, covered, until tender but not falling apart. My pintos cooked in only 30 minutes. A speed record! The plenitude of water means you don’t have to worry about sticking or burning.

At the very end, add salt and pepper.

Strain the broth from the beans. She notes that the Tuscans dress these beans at the table using salt, pepper, olive oil and maybe vinegar.  I tried it, and it’s fine. Solid. Not super exciting, but healthy and hearty. I served the beans over rice with some of the broth. Another possibility, maybe a better possibility, would be to reserve the beans for a higher purpose, like frijoles refritos, or hummus-like applications.

The broth doesn’t keep. You know how stinky beans can get when forgotten in the fridge. I don’t even want to know what might happen to this broth. So use it the next day, or freeze it for the next time you need stock.

I got about 6 cups of bean broth from this recipe.

Anyone done anything similar? Any advice?

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7 Comments

  1. I have this book and have used it sparingly. I am curious to know which recipes you feel are “duds”. Her show is really inspiring and has encouraged me to look at recipes more as a guideline as opposed to cooking by rote.

  2. @Jim

    Yes! She’s very good at teaching you took cook by rule of thumb, and I love that about her. She taught us everything we know about tomato sauce, for instance.

    One dud I can think of off the top of my head was a chickpea soup. Chickpea Soup for All Soul’s Day, I believe? It’s been a while, but as I recall the problems were similar to this broth–the intro was all “OMG!” but the soup was bland. I still cringe when I think about it, because I served it to guests.

    But there’s much to love about this book. So much so that now I’m regretting even mentioning the duds. After all, every recipe book has a few. Hers has fewer than most.

  3. I keep the pot liquor from cooking greens for use as a base for soups, to cook beans or rice, for almost anything that might call for water. I’d tried drinking it as several foraging books mention, but just drinking the pot liquor did not suit me, so not wanting to lose the valuable stuff, I found these other uses.

  4. I’ve tried using bean water before with broth and it does work well, but it will turn at the drop of the hat. To counteract that (since I can easily OD in one week on beans) I like to simmer the water down as much as I can and then freeze the condensed broth in an ice cube tray or two. I then transfer the cubs to a resealable container I keep in the freezer. It’s nice because you get a mix of flavors in your broth from all the veggies/beans you’ve cooked and it’s a lot healthier than store-bought broth.

    Great blog guys– I love reading it each week and I can’t wait to see how your new garden design works out!

    Chris

  5. Hi! Just came across this post. You are definitely missing out if you have not used black bean broth! Super nutritious and much tastier than any beans you’ve mentioned. I cook them, without soaking prior, in a slow cooker. Have used a pressure cooker many times too, but prefer the slow cooker because it is foolproof. Use 32 oz of dried black beans, a large can of whole tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes if in season. 1/4 cup of olive oil, and a few dashes of each: pepper, salt, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and thyme. Chop 2 medium onions, 2 stalks of celery, and 2-3 cloves of garlic. I cooked on low in slow cooker for about 5 hours. The leftover broth is amazing and compliments many dishes! Enjoy!

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