A bright, crisp autumn day yesterday made me think of a hearty chowder, but I was already making up a batch of Tuscan beans, and anyway, chowder's all full of unhealthy cream and butter. Undeterred, inventiveness struck: Why not a fish-and-BEAN chowder without any dairy in it?

Couldn't find anything remotely like it in all my cookbooks -- apparently the ethnic cuisines that feature beans are inland cultures that don't eat fish.

So here's what I came up with:

Start with a batch of Tuscan beans (or any cooked white bean). The recipe is already in this archive, but to summarize briefly, I soak a pound of white beans overnight, then bring to the simmer in a heavy Dutch oven with a whole onion and a couple of sprigs of fresh sage in enough fresh water to cover with 1/2 inch to spare. Cover and place in a VERY low oven (200, or 170 is better) so it just barely simmers, and cook, checking periodically, for two or three hours, until the beans are creamy tender but still whole. (If the oven can't be controlled that low, they'll cook faster and start to mush, so look out.) Add a teaspoon or salt or to taste at the end of cooking.

I generally cook 'em at midday and let them stay in the Dutch oven all afternoon to serve, Italian-style, at room temperature or slightly warmer, drizzled with olive oil and black pepper with crusty Italian bread and a green salad. But in this case, I saved most for another day and just used a few cups as an ingredient. And yes, you CAN save all this effort by simply starting with a can of Navy or Great Northern or Cannellini beans. :)

In any case, with about 1 1/2 cups of cooked beans at the ready, here's the rest of the procedure:

Peel three white boiling potatoes (the kind sold as "creamers" are particularly good) and cut them into dice. Mince plenty of garlic, about a tablespoon, and cut up one or two large scallions. Heat a tablespoon of good olive oil in a saucepan, then sautee the garlic and scallions until the garlic starts to brown. Add the potato dice and stir once or twice, then pour in 1 1/2 cups water. Turn down to a simmer and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the potatoes are almost tender. Take one-half cup of the beans and mash them into a puree with the back of a spoon. Stir this puree into the soup as a natural thickener. Add 8 ounces of the boneless fish of your choice (I used scrod), cut into one-inch cubes. Allow to simmer gently for five or six minutes, then stir in the rest of the beans and continue simmering until they're warmed through. Salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

It definitely made a hearty, high-protein meal, with a lot of a chowder-like character but with much less fat. The two of us polished off the whole thing and fought over who got to lick the pan.

It went very well indeed with Vichon Chevrignon, a dry, tart California white in the style of a French White Bordeaux. It occurred to me that it would also make a great match with a hoppy California-style pale ale like Anchor Liberty or Sierra Nevada, which I think of as particularly good beers for fish.