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Cook What You Have, the new cookbook from Christopher Kimball's Milk Street, focuses on making easy meals out of pantry staples that you always have on hand (or that Milk Street suggests you always have on hand): garlic, onion, canned beans, canned tomatoes, chipotles in adobo sauce, bacon, chicken broth. The idea is to be able to throw together a meal from what you already have, rather than shopping too often for a whole list of specific ingredients. Eventually, you might be able to improvise from your staples without even consulting a recipe.
This recipe for frijoles charros, or "cowboy beans," from Milk Street is a perfect example, and it's perfect for the cooler days of autumn.
Pinto Beans with Bacon and Chipotle
Mexican frijoles charros, or “cowboy beans,” often is made by simmering pinto beans and fresh tomatoes with multiple varieties of pork, including sausage, ham, pork rind, and shoulder or foot. In our pantry-centric riff on frijoles charros, we keep things simple—but make them smoky—by using bacon. We add spiciness and even more smoky notes with chipotle chili in adobo sauce. Serve these hearty, stewy beans with warm tortillas.
6 ozs. bacon, chopped
1 medium red onion, 3⁄4 chopped, 1⁄4 finely chopped and reserved separately
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 chipotle chili in adobo, chopped, plus 2 tsps adobo sauce
2 tsps ground cumin
2 tsps chili powder
Two 15 1⁄2-oz. cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
14 1⁄2-oz. can crushed tomatoes
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Optional garnish: Chopped fresh cilantro OR sliced radishes OR both
1. In a large pot over medium, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and beginning to crisp, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the chopped onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, 4 to 5 minutes.
2. Add the garlic, chipotle and adobo sauce, cumin, and chili powder; cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the beans, broth, and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits, then reduce to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
3. Off heat, taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with the finely chopped onion.