Belinda Jeffery

Boston Baked Beans with Smoked Pancetta

I love this simple bean stew which is somewhat of a hybrid of traditional Boston baked beans. Smoked pancetta, bitter-sweet blackstrap molasses, and smoked paprika all infuse the beans with an intriguing flavour. However as it takes rather a long time to cook (about 4 hours) it’s best made when you’re going to be around and about at home. That said, as long as you remember to soak the beans overnight it’s put together in no time at all, and happily looks after itself in the oven, filling the house with the most mouth-watering aroma. It’s lovely with lightly cooked spinach tossed with good olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkle of sea salt; better still, try it with cavolo nero cooked the same way and forked through the beans – its deep mineral flavour is perfect with them.


When I haven’t been able to find smoked pancetta, I’ve used 200g of bacon bones and 280 g diced bacon pieces instead. The flavour is a bit different, but it’s still very good – just remember to fish out the bones before serving the beans.


Serves 6

500g dried red kidney beans

1 tablespoon olive oil

250g piece #smoked pancetta cut into a 6mm dice

1 very large brown onion, finely chopped

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 – 2 small red chillies, finely chopped

1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato pesto (or regular tomato paste)

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ cup (90g) blackstrap molasses

¼ cup (90g) golden syrup

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons dry English mustard

1 teaspoon red or white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 x 400g can diced tomatoes

450 g chorizo sausages, optional

A small handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, to garnish

# If you can get your hands on it, Salumi Australia produce terrific naturally smoked pancetta, along with a fabulous range of salamis, sausages, speck and other smallgoods. If you would like to read more about their range go to


Pop the kidney beans into a large sieve or colander and rinse them thoroughly under cold water. Scoop them into a large bowl and pour in enough cold water to cover them by a thumb’s length. Cover the bowl and leave them to soak for at least 6-8 hours (or overnight) in a cool spot (if you by any chance you’re making this in warm weather, sit the beans in the fridge or they might ferment.) Just before cooking the beans, drain them and give them a quick rinse in water again.   


Tip the kidney beans into a large saucepan and cover them with enough cold water to cover the beans by about 2cm. Bring the water to the boil over high heat, then reduce the heat a little so the beans bubble steadily. Cook them for 10 minutes, skimming off any scum that floats on the surface, then drain them in a colander.


Preheat your oven to 150C.


Warm the oil in a large flameproof casserole (I use my trusty 4 litre enamelled cast iron one for this) over medium heat. Add the pancetta, onion, garlic and chilli, and cook them, stirring regularly, for about 8 minutes until the onions and the fat on the pancetta have a somewhat translucent look. Stir in the tomato pesto and smoked paprika, and cook them for a minute or so to release their fragrance, then turn off the heat.


In the meantime, in a large bowl thoroughly mix together the molasses, golden syrup, both mustards, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and diced tomatoes. Finally, mix in 3 ½ cups (875ml) water. Scoop half the onion mixture out of the casserole into a bowl. Spread the mixture remaining in the casserole evenly over the base, then spread half the kidney beans over the top. Whisk the molasses mixture and pour half of it over the beans. Scatter the rest of the onion mixture evenly on top, then spread the remaining beans over this. Finally, pour in the rest of the molasses mixture. Sit the casserole over high heat and bring the mixture just to the boil, then cover it and pop it in the oven.


Cook the beans for 4 – 4 ½ hours until they’re tender (there will only be a small amount of liquid in the very bottom of the dish – if it looks a bit wet, leave the lid askew for the final half hour of cooking).


If you’re using the chorizo, prick the sausages a few times, then nestle them into the beans (they will stick out a bit) during the last 45 minutes of cooking, turning them halfway through the cooking time.


When the beans are ready, remove the casserole from the oven and leave it to settle for 10 minutes or so. If you’re using chorizo sausages, fish them out, slice them into thickish chunks, then return them to the dish.  To serve, scoop the beans into shallow bowls and sprinkle with parsley leaves.


As you can imagine the flavour of the beans only gets better over time, and they keep well in the fridge for up to 6 days. Serves 6.




If you forgot to soak the kidney beans overnight, don’t despair. Rinse them thoroughly, then put them in a large saucepan with 6 cups (1 ½ litres) cool water and bring them to the boil.  Reduce the heat and let them bubble gently for 2 minutes. Then turn off the heat, cover them, and leave them for 1 hour before draining them and continuing with the recipe.




To check if the kidney beans are cooked, scoop a few out of the dish, and once they’re cool pop them on your tongue and press them against the roof of your mouth, they should crush easily.