Cinco de Mayo only comes once a year (really?) and though my restaurant "TUTTI" was a contemporary American restaurant with an Italian twist, we liked to show our support by running Mexican specials for the week of the fifth. One particular year we wanted to feature “Frijoes Borracho” (drunken beans) for which we needed to have pinto beans. Unfortunately, the smallest quantity we could get through our vendor was 100 lbs, ONE HUNDRED POUNDS of beans.
Well, cinco de Mayo came and went and the specials were fabulous, but we only went through 40 lbs of beans. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure that left us with 60 lbs of beans to somehow incorporate into an Italian/American menu. Not black beans or canelli beans or even lentil…no, these were pinto beans, as un-Italian as you could get.
Though this was a small annoyance, it was frustrating me daily. It seemed that every time I would walk by the dry storage shelves these six 10 lb cans of beans would stare at me, beckoning me to come up with some creative idea to relieve them of their feelings of neglect. They begged me to take away the pain each time the boxes of carnoroli rice were chosen off the shelf over them; or when they were pushed aside for easy reach of the whole artichokes that were fortunate to be in three different menu items. I was tired of counting the bean cans every time I did inventory. I thought of donating them to the soup kitchen but that would mean they had defeated me. No, I had to come up with a way to make them work into our menu, or at least on to our special sheet.
The first venture was to use them in soup. We made, Tuscan bean soup, (hope nobody noticed that the Italian beans were mixed with pinto beans) not very Tuscan. Then it was puree of bean soup with a basil oil drizzle. Then came the vegetable brothy soup with beans. Ten pounds down, 50 to go! The next creation was obvious, cassoulet. I purchased some beautiful venison loin and made a chorizo cassoulet with grilled venison fanned atop. It was rich and delicious and made a great special. In the meantime, I started doing research on what pinto beans could be made into that wasn’t of Mexican origin. I found some old southern recipes that utilized pinto beans in pie. PIE? So I thought I would experiment. A little of this, a little of that with the absolutely perfect butter pastry crust and out came a coconut/ pecan pinto bean pie. Of course if I wrote pinto bean pie on the menu, surely no one would order it. So I called it Pecan/ coconut custard tart.
I drizzled it with house made caramel, topped it with whipped cream and candied pecans...WOW! The service staff sampled it and we went through 20 pieces in two days. It was drop dead delicious. I tried to translate "a little of this, little of that" into a recipe and made it again. Two tarts sold again in less than two days. The staff had so much fun watching people’s eyes roll back in delight, then took pleasure divulging to them that it was mostly pinto beans! You could hear outbursts of “NO WAY” echoing throughout the dining room all night long. I had fun with it too. I would make bets with some of my regular guests, If they could tell me the main ingredient, I would offer the dessert complimentary...I always won!
A couple of weeks passed and we were down to 10 lbs of beans. It was clear to me that the tart needed to make its way onto our permanent menu. That meant that pinto beans would stare me down forever, only they were able to do it purpose; they had found their home at last.
Who Knew? Pinot Bean Pie
All butter crust
2 ½ cups ap flour, sifted
1 cup butter, very cold cut into ½ in cubes
1 teas salt
1 teas sugar
6-8 tbls ice water
Combine flour, salt and sugar in food processor, pulse to mix. Add butter pulse 6-8 times until mixture resembles coarse meal with pea size pieces of butter. Add ice water 1 Tbls at a time, pulsing until mixture just begins to clump together. If you pinch some of the dough and it holds together, its ready. If not, add a little more water and pulse again.
Remove dough from machine and place in a mound on a clean surface. Gently shape into 2 discs. Kneed the dough just enough to form the discs, do not over knead. You should be able to see clumps of butter in the dough. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, and up to 2 days. Let soften 5-10 minutes before rolling.
Makes 2- 9 inch crusts
Pecan coconut custard filling
2 cups cooked pinto beans (canned work best) mashed with ¼ cup coco lopez (creamed coconut)
2 2/3 cups sweetened coconut
2 2/3 cup chopped pecans
4 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 Tbls rum
4 sticks melted butter
Mix all ingredients together and pour into unbaked pie shells. Bake for 1 hr 10 minutes at 350F.
Makes filling for 2-9 inch pies