The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. As the senior associate food editor at Bon Appétit, Molly Baz is responsible for creating smash-hit recipes like pasta al limone and crispy green rice pilaf. But what does she cook at home in Brooklyn on a Sunday? Turns out, it’s often a big pot of beans, but it’s anything but basic.
I wasn't very into food until I was in college. I studied abroad in Florence and had an eye-opening experience with food that I never had growing up; I lived with this little old lady named Graziella, who was a widow, and she cooked for me every day. I came back to the States and graduated a little bit early from Skidmore, and I started a restaurant in my house off campus during the last semester. We called it PDE, which stood for Private Dining Experience — now I'm just like, Jesus, what was I thinking? We would charge our friends to come over for dinner, but we were super professional about it! We made four-course meals and printed menus.
That's when I realized that cooking was my path, and so I went and worked in restaurants. I didn't want to pay for culinary school. I still don't believe in culinary school. I went and I got a job in Boston at a place called Beacon Hill Bistro and got my ass handed to me. I didn't have intuition in the kitchen until I worked in a professional one, and had to look at the same recipe over and over and understand it in all of its facets.
I went on to work at a bunch of other restaurants, but eventually, I was like, This is not the lifestyle for me. I started a catering company with a friend of mine. That wasn't for me, either. Then I thought, Maybe I should get into this food media thing that everyone talks about. I interviewed everywhere and started cross-testing recipes for Epicurious. It was a dream because it was calm and I got to work at my own pace, but it was still thoughtful work. Eventually, I started doing freelance food styling for all of the videos at Bon Appétit and Epicurious, and then I went in house. A year later, I realized I didn’t want to be styling other people's food. I wanted to be creating my own.
I realized I didn’t want to be styling other people's food. I wanted to be creating my own.
At that point I had gotten pretty close with Carla [Lalli Music] because I was helping produce her cooking shows as the food stylist. I had a meeting with her and said, "Listen, I need to tell you that I'm in the wrong role in this company, and if you can find a way, it would be my dream to be in your kitchen." She’s an incredible boss and comrade, and now I work in the BA test kitchen.
It's a really small group of people with a lot of fucking personality, and, obviously, BA has figured out how to capitalize on that. But the reason I love what I do is not only because I love all the people there, but also because I get to do so many different things in a day. I get to use my brain in a lot of different ways as I develop recipes and think about our different audiences, but I’m also on camera and that totally switches things up — it's like I’m teaching mini cooking classes. It’s never boring and there are always yummy things to eat.
Going into my job at BA, I thought that cooking all day long at work would mean that I wouldn't have the drive to cook when I got home. I really don't find that to be the case at all, which I'm grateful for; I feel inspired by what I see in the test kitchen. Cooking is what I like to do regardless of my job. I'm a little bit fanatical about it. I just love to cook. Sue me.
Cooking is what I like to do regardless of my job.
I think I love it so much because I like being able to figure out and understand the effect that I can have on ingredients. If I were to take a bite out of them raw, most would be unpleasant. Look at what I have here: raw garlic, raw onions, an uncooked bean, an extremely spicy pepper. None of those things do anything for my palate until I manipulate them. I think that's the most magical part of cooking.
I feel like a couple of years ago my husband and I realized how much we love a pot of beans. You can just put them on the stove and let them simmer; we’ll do this on the weekends and then have delicious beans throughout the week. I love the idea of transforming something so humble into something utterly delicious over the course of a few hours.
I love the idea of transforming something so humble into something utterly delicious.
I really love Rancho Gordo beans, which are easily available if you can't get to a farmers market and buy beans. You soak the beans overnight in cold water and just leave them in a bowl submerged. They absorb a ton of water, and then in the morning, or eight hours later, when you're ready to cook, you drain off the water and you build your cooking liquid in a Dutch oven or large saucepan.
I feel like most people don't put enough salt or fat into beans. You can make really delicious beans with just water, salt, and fat. I recently had lardo in the fridge, so I used that to cook them, in addition to olive oil, and it imparted so much flavor. I probably put a quarter cup of salt in there to start, and I’ll put in more. At the bare minimum, add red onion that’s cut in half or in quarters. Or a couple of shallots cut in half, some smashed cloves of garlic. A fresh herb is always nice in there, like parsley. Sometimes I’ll even throw in a bunch of mint, which imparts a subtle but perceptible freshness to the dish. Then I’ll add lemons and then a little Fresno chile for heat.
Throw that all into a pot with the drained beans. Cover it by about, I'd say, one inch of water, maybe two inches, and then add a good inch of olive oil so that it's covering the surface and soaking into the beans as they cook. I salt more as I go. It’s important to actually stir the beans pretty often. You can't just walk away from them because the bottom of the pot is a lot hotter than the top. Keep the lid off the whole time. Timing depends on the size of the beans, but they could probably go anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. They have to be cooked super low and slow, at barely a simmer. If you boil them, the outsides will cook before the insides do, and they'll fall apart. You'll probably eat, like, a half a cup of beans over the course of the bean cookery.
My preferred way to eat them is with fried eggs on top. I'll take the beans out of the Dutch oven and put them back into a small pot with a little bit of the bean cooking liquid, which is really delicious. It's basically like chicken broth. I reduce it until it gets nice and thick and saucy, and then spoon those beans into a bowl and fry up a couple of eggs. Add whatever kind of yummy, spicy condiment you have on hand. A lot of times that is chile crisp. Today I happen to have ramp leaves because I pickled ramps yesterday. I'm going to fold ramp leaves into the beans, which is extra special.