Tuscan Beans

14 May

Actually I have no idea if this recipe is actually Tuscan.  More likely, it’s just a mash-up of various things.  A sort of Italian-herbed version of a French cassoulet.  But it’s what my family makes frequently and calls “Tuscan Beans.”  Whatever you call it, this is a good dish.  A great dish.  A super-simple and oh-so-satisfying dish, eaten as a side or a main.  With meat or without.  It’s not a recipe that needs careful supervision (no constant stirring required, and no chance of burning on medium-low).  It can be made in a pot on the top of the stove, or a crock pot on the counter (if you decide to go this route, I’d cook the aromatics and sausage in a separate pan and combine them with the beans and tomatoes and just a little wine in the crock pot for a few hours on low).  It can be refrigerated or frozen and warmed up at your leisure.  My family makes giant batches of it for family parties – I make less-giant batches of it for my husband and I to nosh throughout a week (it’s one of my favorite lunches).

Basically, you need to make this dish.

There’s not much to it – beans, a few aromatics (you’ll notice the same ones I use in my spaghetti sauce – most Italian soups and sauces start with this base), some herbs and fresh tomatoes, and some wine.  Sausage or another meat if you wish.  But, oh, the possibilities.  I like to eat this alongside some beautiful roasted chicken.  Or some crusty Italian bread.  Or smeared on top of flatbread.  Or in a big old bowl by itself.  Don’t judge.

It doesn’t hurt to double or triple the recipe, either, just to make sure you have some on hand for later.  I can’t take all the credit for this recipe – my family sort of developed it all together.  But I did write it down! 🙂

Elisa’s Family’s Tuscan Beans

  • olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped (you want to have a ratio of approximately twice as much onion as carrot, and approximately as much carrot as celery)
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 4-8 cloves garlic, mashed (what? I like garlic!)
  • 2 links Italian sausage, chopped (optional; it’s very good without, but I do add this when I’m making these beans as a main dish)
  • 3/4 cup tomato pieces (I used grape tomato halves, about half a container; you could also use a couple of medium tomatoes, cut up, or even a small can of drained diced tomatoes)
  • 2 cans low-sodium white beans, rinsed and drained (Organic beans often have the lowest sodium content of grocery store beans…  I like to use white northern beans or white kidney beans; cannelini tend to be a little mushier but are also tasty…  of course you could also use any other bean you might have in the cupboard, or you could soak dry beans overnight and use them!)
  • 1-2 cups dry white wine (whatever you like to drink; I typically use Pinot Grigio if I have it in the house…  you could also subsitute low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth here, or water, but I like the flavor wine brings to the dish)
  • 1 handful fresh parsley, chopped (approx. 1 tbsp; you can sub about 1 1/2 tsp dry parsley if you need to)
  • 2 handfuls fresh basil, chopped (approx. 2 tbsp; you can sub about 1 tbsp dry basil)
  • 1 dry bay leaf
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Add enough oil to barely coat the bottom of a medium saucepan.  Warm it on medium-low heat until the oil shimmers.  Add the onion and cook for 1 minute.  Add the carrots and celery and cook until the vegetables have softened (7-10 minutes).  Add the garlic, stir, and cook for 1-2 minutes or until garlic has softened.  Add the sausage pieces (if using) and cook until they begin to look cooked (no need to cook through, but you want to give them a little color; about 5-7 minutes); if you’re not using sausage, just cook your aromatics for another few minutes before adding tomatoes.  Add your tomatoes and let cook for 5-7 minutes or until they’re softened.  Add the beans and parsley, plus a little black pepper, and enough white wine to barely cover the beans.  Stir everything together and add a bay leaf.  Cook for 15-20 minutes uncovered on medium-low heat.  The beans should simmer but not boil, and most of the liquid will evaporate.  If you let your beans boil too hard they can explode and the beauty of this dish is that the beans are perfectly cooked at the end; most of them should still be toothsome, like al dente pasta.  Once most of the liquid has evaporated, turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf, and taste.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir in chopped basil.  Serve immediately or refrigerate overnight (because like a good sauce they’re better the next day!).

It may not look like much, but this is a bowl of beany goodness!

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