When we use canned beans, we like to give them a little love before we dress them. Drain them into a sieve, give them a good rinse under cold running water, then drain well and toss with a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt. Then go in with your dressing.
Stir together the garlic, olives, parsley, vinegar, olive oil, and red pepper flakes in a medium mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add the beans and toss gently to coat. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle with more olive oil before serving.
Look for the "Best if Used By" date when buying a package of dried beans. The fresher the beans, the more quickly they'll cook. Cook a whole pound, it will yield 4–5 cups of beans. Add them to salads or just serve them as a side dish dressed with a little olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Cooked beans freeze beautifully.
To cook beans: Put the dried beans in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover by 4 inches. Cover and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Turn off the heat and allow the beans to soak undisturbed for about 1 hour. Drain the beans and add fresh water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the beans are tender. It can take anywhere from 1–3 hours, depending on the freshness of the beans. Test them after an hour to see how they are progressing. Add salt and let them cool in their liquid.
Reprinted with permission from Canal House Cooking Volume No. 8: Pronto by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer.
Richard Wrangham, a professor at Harvard University and author of Catching Fire, studies the role of cooking in human evolution. "Once you start thinking about the importance of cooking -- its supply of energy, its strange distribution compared to natural foods -- it's bound to have affected our evolution hugely, our behavior, our society, our cognition, all sorts of features about us," he says.