Braised Cannellini Beans (or, this is really good)

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A few years ago, I was tinkering around with a recipe for a gluten-free cake for work. I wanted to make something that didn’t have a gritty rice flour feel or a dense texture and crumb, something that everyone (not just gluten-free people) would really enjoy. I thought I’d hit the jackpot with a recipe for a quinoa chocolate cake, so I made it, and I presented the deep chocolate confection to my waiting family.

“It tastes like soil,” said The Author, not trying to be unkind.

“I don’t want any more,” said The Oldest, and she pushed it away.

I turned to The Poppet, who will eat anything if she even suspects there’s chocolate in it. “What do you think? Do you like it?” She shook her head.

No one likes it?” I asked loudly. They all shook their heads. I tried a piece. I didn’t like it either, and I couldn’t even figure out a way to salvage it. Into the compost it went.

I still haven’t figured out how to make that cake, but if I ever do, I’ll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, I want you to know that if I tell you something is good, I’m going to back up that declaration with a recipe that has worked not only at work, but – even more importantly – that gets a few thumbs-up from our little home. This recipe is one of those recipes.

Granted, there is not much that is sexy about beans, especially when every time you make them, the resident jokesters start chanting, “Beans, beans, the magical fruit…” But these truly are so good that any after-effects are well worth it.

These beans are rich with olive oil, while the wine lends a light note that keeps them from veering towards stodgy. Garlic and herbs add extra depth, and the whole thing comes together to make a very nice side dish, or even a good vegetarian main course. And leftovers, should there be any, can be whizzed up  and loosened with some water or stock to make a fabulous soup. So, unless you hate beans, I really think you will like these. Really.

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The olive oil gives a golden glow and a nice kick to the beans.

Braised Cannellini Beans

I used to make a haphazard version of this (you know, adding a little more oil sometimes, a little more wine another), and I got different but good results each time. Then one day four years ago my friend and colleague Ruth came to work with a very organised recipe from Ottolenghi. The recipe here is a pared-down version of that, and it has pretty much become the baseline for me.  I almost always make the beans this way now, but to be honest, there’s a lot of leeway in the method, and you can tinker all you want and come up with fantastic results.

One thing I would recommend, however, is that you definitely use dried beans, not canned. The flavour will be so much better, and the beans themselves should retain their shape and not turn to a pile of mush.

As for any unwanted, ahem, side effects, in theory you can help to eliminate those by rinsing the beans well before soaking, and then changing the soaking water before boiling. I’ve also read that the addition of salt and an acid (lemon, vinegar, wine) to the beans will help to reduce the gassiness. This recipe contains both of those things, but to be on the safe side, best to have a glass of wine with your dinner!

  • 250g dried cannellini beans
  • 150 ml olive oil
  • 150 ml white wine (cooking wine or a cheap dry white is fine)
  • 300 ml water, plus more for soaking and cooking the beans
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp chili flakes

To cook the dried beans, you can use one of the following two methods. The first requires that you think ahead to save time later. The second method works well if, like me, you’ve made the decision to have this about 3 hours before dinner time.

Method one: Rinse the beans and then soak them for 8 hours or overnight in plenty of cold water. Drain them, rinse them again, and bring to a boil in about twice the amount of water as beans. I often put in a bay leaf or two for extra flavour. Check that the water does not get too low during the cooking, which should take about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the age of the bean. You may also need to occasionally skim the foam from the top of the water. For this recipe, the beans are done when there is only the tiniest “bite” to the bean when you test one.

Method two: Rinse the beans, bring the beans to a boil in double the amount of water, then turn off the heat and let sit for one hour. Drain, return the beans to a boil, then let them cook until done (as above).

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Skimming the foam off the beans.

When the beans are cooked, put them in an oven-proof dish (preferably one with a lid), and add the remaining ingredients. The liquid should just cover the beans; if it doesn’t, add more, using the ratio of 2 parts water to 1 part wine and 1 part olive oil. Taste the liquid before putting the beans in the oven: it should taste slightly salty and have a good kick from the olive oil.

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Bringing the beans to a boil just before putting them in the oven.

Over medium-high heat on the stove, bring the beans to a boil, then put the lid on the dish and put the beans in a 170C preheated oven. Cook, covered for 30-40 minutes, until the beans have absorbed most of the liquid.

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You can pick the bay leaves and the bigger stems of the rosemary out before serving, or you can bring it to the table “rustic style”!

I like to serve this with a salad of bitter greens, crusty bread for mopping up any bean juices, and of course, a nice hearty red wine. Substitute three glasses of milk for the wine, and I have three happy kids. The Author, too, will gladly eat this meal, but he’s much happier if we’re back to the wine and there’s also a pork chop involved.

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Braised Cannellini Beans (or, this is really good)

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