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Maple Baked Beans

At their best, baked beans, which have been at the center of the American table since colonial times, are both sweet and salty and have a tender bite—all of which add up to comfort food that never goes out of fashion. For the most traditional taste, look for Grade B maple syrup from Vermont, which boasts pronounced caramel flavors.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. (about 2 1/4 cups) Great Northern or cannellini beans
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 3/4 lb. salt pork

Directions:

Rinse the beans and pick them over, discarding any misshapen beans or stones. In a large bowl, combine the beans with water to cover by 1 inch, and let stand at cool room temperature for at least 4 hours or up to 12 hours. (If the weather is warm, refrigerate the beans while soaking.)

Drain the beans, transfer to a large saucepan and add water to cover. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Set the lid askew, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the beans are barely tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Stir in the salt during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Meanwhile, in a large fry pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is very tender and turns a deep golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from the heat.

When the beans are ready, drain them in a colander, reserving the cooking liquid. Transfer the beans to a bowl. Add the cooked onion, maple syrup, brown sugar and mustard and stir to combine.

Preheat an oven to 325°F.

Trim off and discard the rind from the salt pork, then thinly slice. Line the bottom of a deep 2 1/2- to 3-quart baking dish or Dutch oven with one-third of the salt pork. Add half of the beans, then half of the remaining salt pork. Top with the remaining beans and salt pork. Add enough of the reserved cooking liquid to barely cover the beans. Cover and bake for 2 hours. Uncover and continue baking until the cooking liquid has thickened to a glossy syrup, about 1 1/2 hours more. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Serve hot. Serves 8.

Variation: If you can’t find salt pork, use thick bacon slices, preferably apple-wood smoked. Or, bury a smoked ham hock or smoked turkey wing in the beans before you put them in the oven.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Comfort Food, by Rick Rodgers (Oxmoor House, 2009).