Monday, 12 January 2015 | 32 comments

Melissa Clark’s pinto beans braised with bacon & red wine

I took a little holiday break from writing here but not from writing, which was an interesting experiment that caused me to descend into some pretty dark stuff that no one, trust me, wants to read. So! Happy new year. Let’s talk about beans and definitely not about feelings, feminism, guns, or country music.*

I don’t pretend to be any high arbiter of bean quality, but if you like food, we live in a golden age of beautiful, heirloom beans, no small thanks to seed savers and discoverers like Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo. Heirloom beans are worth the money, and sometimes I special order them for particular dishes or to have on hand for a treat. I could spend a long time convincing you of the merits of gorgeous Good Mother Stallards or Christmas limas. But beans are supposed to promise a triple threat of nutrition, rib-sticking satiety, and economy. And at $6+ a pound, heirlooms don’t exactly satisfy that last qualification. So let’s talk about budget-conscious beans. Enter the humble pinto.

Available for cheap in the Hispanic section or the bulk bins of your grocery store, pintos have too long been relegated to the offending pile of liquid-y stuff that makes your taco soggy when it shares the same plate. Pintos have a nice, nutty, subtle flavor, though, that sets a good backdrop for all kinds of cuisine. When I read this Melissa Clark recipe a few years ago, I was skeptical about her distinctly Mediterranean take on pintos. I made it anyway.

Clark starts with an aromatic base of bacon along with carrot, celery, onion, and garlic. Instead of simmering the beans with wine for hours, the recipe calls for reducing a couple cups of red wine into a concentrated syrup that is stirred in towards the end of cooking. All in all, this has since become my favorite bean preparation, ever. It’s nice enough for guests, and in winter, served alongside grits (my favorite) or rice (Ben’s), it really keeps you going.

Melissa’s recipe is pretty perfect as-is, but I bring you the wisdom of having cooked this recipe from dried beans, a million ways: soaked overnight, thrown in dry, on the stovetop, and in the oven. They all work! And all methods are a bit better after a day or so of sitting after cooking. I’ll give stovetop instructions here, but any oven bean-cooking method is easily translated to this recipe, especially if you have a nice dutch oven that can go from stove to oven.

* But, if you want to read about these things, here are some people who can write about these topics better than I can!

Feelings: I Will Be Your Mother Figure, from the ever-wonderful Modern Love column of the NYT.

Feminism: Jessica Valenti recently launched a food newsletter that has quick hits of what she’s cooking, what she’s thinking about, and, quirkily, selections from her teenage diaries. It is fun, smart, and irreverent and if you like Valenti’s writing generally, you will enjoy. Sign up here.

Guns: “It leaves us less sure, as Notre-Dame’s bells toll for the dead jesters, who will get the last laugh.” Philip Gourevitch on “the pen versus the gun”.

Country music: I spend too much time watching Dolly sing Jolene in 1974.

Melissa Clark’s pinto beans braised with bacon & red wine

A tip: Use a non-reactive pot for this one—enamel cast-iron is great—because the acidic wine can make things taste unpleasantly metallic otherwise.

You’ll need

  1. Several ounces to 1/2 pound smoky bacon, diced (Clark’s recipe calls for a full half pound, but I find you can get the good effects of the smoky bacon with just a few slices of thick cut bacon if you have it kicking around)
  2. 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  3. 2 celery stalks, diced
  4. 2 carrots, peeled if desired, and diced
  5. 4 cloves garlic, minced
  6. 2 large sprigs woody herb of your choice (Clark’s recipe calls for rosemary, which is very nice, but I have used thyme and sage to equal success)
  7. 1 pound dried pinto beans, dry OR soaked overnight (soaking overnight will shorten cooking time, though, so read directions carefully before beginning)
  8. 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt, with more to taste
  9. 2 cups dry red wine
  10. Good olive oil, for serving (optional)
  11. Coarsely grated parmesan, for serving (optional)
  12. Coarsely ground black pepper or red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)


  1. In a large, thick-bottomed pot over medium heat, cook the bacon until some fat is rendered and the bacon is starting to turn golden but is not totally cooked, about 5 minutes. Add onion, celery, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, another five to ten minutes, until onions begin to turn translucent and vegetables begin to turn tender.
  2. Add beans to pot, whether dry or soaked overnight (although if beans have been soaked overnight, drain them first). Add the tablespoon of salt. Add 7 or 8 cups of water. For beans soaked overnight, this will just cover them. For dried beans, it will seem a substantial amount of liquid. Bring the beans to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. For beans soaked overnight, simmer gently for about 45 minutes to one hour. For beans being cooked from dry, simmer gently for 2 to 4 hours.
  3. Meanwhile, in a small pot over medium heat, bring the 2 cups wine to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and simmer until wine is reduced to about one-third and has formed a thin syrup. This takes about 20 minutes.
  4. When beans are tender and have begun to give off their starchy, bean-y liquid, remove any branches from woody herbs in your pot and discard them. Add the reduced wine to the pot and stir it to combine. Bring the beans to a simmer again, and cook for 10 to 20 minutes more for the flavors to meld.
  5. Serve the beans alongside polenta, buttered egg noodles, rice, or potatoes. Pass olive oil, grated parmesan, and black pepper or red pepper flakes for topping.
  6. To make ahead, allow beans to cool after adding the red wine. Refrigerate until ready to eat. To heat, gently bring the beans to a simmer on the stovetop before serving.

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§ 32 responses to Melissa Clark’s pinto beans braised with bacon & red wine

  • I crave dishes like this during the winter. I love Melissa Clark’s recipes, so I can’t wait to give this a try.

  • I love Melissa Clark recipes, understand what you are talking about “dark stuff”.

  • 1. jars on shelves photo = love
    2. will be trying this–big pots of beans + a batch of cornbread is a staple meal in this house.
    3. Jill managed to grow some Christmas Limas this year in the backyard! Have you ever had them fresh? Crazy good. Just blistered in a pan with olive oil & salt…hubba.
    4. Dolly Parton is a national treasure. TRUTH.

  • Kate

    We eat from a big pot of beans regularly, and even in trying one new variety a week we could spend the better part of a year exploring them all. Such a treasure they are.

  • So glad you are showing a lot of love to the oft-neglected pinto bean! Looks beautiful.

  • I believe that one of the most self-satisfying feelings in the world is having a large pantry well-stocked with dry beans. And one of these days I’m gonna be able to grow all my own, I swear.

  • This looks perfect for a slightly broke January, thank you! I have eaten A LOT of pulses and grains this month, so beans will be a nice …err, change… from those.

  • I was never healthier than the years we couldn’t afford beer, and only ate beans. I still love beans – you’d think I’d have a block against them! But they’re such wonderful food. This recipe sounds lovely!

  • This recipe warmed me up just reading it. Bacon and red wine? I love me some beans, but even if I cooked my left shoe in bacon and red wine, I bet I’d eat that straight up. ;)

  • I just love this so much, particularly your ode to the pinto. I love me some Rancho Gordo in my stocking (or in a new baby care package – that was the best!) but I also think there must be ways to feel deeply nourished even when physical resources are scant, as they often are for us. So thankful for the abundant human resources that have helped me become such an able cook.

    The wine is almost done reducing and then this is going in our bellies! (Scooped out some beans pre-wine for the baby – not the sort of thing I usually worry too much about, but it’s not an insignificant amount, so what the heck.)

  • Shannon

    Love Dolly Parton. Love Melissa Clark. Love beans in any guise and thanks to my mom, grandmas and great grandmas, I think, I have all of those same jars. Thanks for another enjoyable post.

  • I am also taking a long break from internet writing but not from writing in general. Although, not on such fun topics as feminism (!) or feelings (!) Oh how I wish. Instead, it’s academic history on electricity, which is both fascinating and painfully boring after the many hours, days, weeks and months it takes to write factually accurate chapters. This is not the glamorous “writing” life I dreamed of as a girl. Writing, it turns out, is quite a lonely and challenging affair… So, godspeed in your efforts! And in the meantime, glad for the beans.

    Also, the Modern Love column from this weekend was awesome, in case you missed it.

  • Court

    I have never thought to season beans with red wine, so this is a must try. Thank you for these links too, the Modern Love column turned into a pleasant morning tears in my coffee experience.

  • Oh, this sounds lovely and hearty. Like the stew version of lentil soup.

  • Leaving home and going flatting, this looks like the sort of thing I’d do well to have a big pot of in the fridge for lunch/dinner/boredom meals. I do cook pintos frequently (normally a monster batch in the slow cooker) but I imagine this would be a welcome change to the refried beans that I make far too often. Thanks, Sarah.

  • Bravo to the underrated pinto! We eat a lot of pinto beans in this house, so much my daughter has taken to putting my husband on a bean-eating schedule (only every other day), the consequences can be hard to live with. :)

  • This post comes at just the right time; I’m craving beans, I have red wine to use up and bacon, too. Thank you! And I have found that Dolly singing Jolene is a mental health necessity at least three times a year. Have you seen/heard this version?

  • Linsey

    These were amazing! Thanks for sharing. We just finished the HUGE pot and I’m already wanting another!

  • great winter dish. I’m sure my kitchen will smell wonderful after trying this out.

  • Bravo to the underrated pinto! We eat a lot of pinto beans in this house, so much my daughter has taken to putting my husband on a bean-eating schedule (only every other day),

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