Here’s yet another reason to worship canned beans

By Melissa Clark, The New York Times

For years, I was convinced that for a dish as simple as olive oil-braised white beans, dried cannellini were the only way to go.

It was well worth the time to soak the beans overnight, then braise them in olive oil, rosemary, garlic and chile for two to three hours, I reasoned, because the end result was so wonderfully creamy and suffused with aromatic richness. How could canned beans possibly compare?

I found out just how good they could be during lockdown, when the vagaries of one supermarket trip yielded more canned beans than dried.

Looking to stock the pantry, I bought as many cans of cannellini as I could carry. When a craving for a pot of herby beans hit, I opened a couple of cans and cooked them using the same ingredients as I would for dried beans, cutting the liquid down.

It went blissfully fast. With no need to soak, the beans required only a quick rinse before hitting the pan, which was sizzling with slivers of garlic turning gold at the edges. Less than 20 minutes later, the beans had absorbed the olive oil and melted into a stewlike mass. The kitchen smelled divine.

Still, I was suspicious. It all just seemed too quick, too easy.

I stuck a spoon in. The sauce was even more velvety than my usual dried beans. This made sense once I thought about it. Cooked under pressure, canned beans are taken way past the point of tenderness, until they break down a little and the skins burst. This is problematic for dishes like bean salads, where you want beans to maintain their shape. But when simmered into braises and stews, those verging-on-mushy canned beans more readily release their starch into the sauce than dried beans cooked from scratch.

I could eat my creamy and thick bean stew with a fork, though adding a little water turned it nicely soupy. It’s versatile, too. Working my way through my stock of canned beans, I played with the basic recipe, stirring in tomatoes and, in this version, golden fried onions, which add both texture and sweetness.

One thing to know about canned beans, though: Brands vary a lot in texture and flavor. Beans canned with salt taste a lot better than no-salt varieties. Make sure to read the ingredients. Then stock your pantry, knowing that so many satisfying meals are only minutes away.

Rosemary White Beans With Frizzled Onions and Tomato

A speedy, pantry-friendly dish, canned white beans braised in olive oil and tomatoes become stewlike and creamy. Pinches of fresh or dried rosemary, chile flakes and lemon zest add complexity to the mix, while a topping of frizzled, browned onions lends sweetness and a chewy-crisp texture. Serve this with toasted country bread drizzled with olive oil, or over a bowl of rice or farro for an easy, satisfying weeknight meal.

By Melissa Clark

Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, halved and thinly sliced into half moons
  • Fine sea salt
  • 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary, or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, more for serving
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans white beans, such as cannellini or butter beans (preferably canned with salt), drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves and tender stems, more for garnish

Preparation

1. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil until it shimmers over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned all over, 7 to 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, transfer half of the onions to a plate and season lightly with salt.

2. Add remaining 6 tablespoons oil, the garlic, rosemary, red-pepper flakes and a pinch of salt to the onions in the skillet. Cook until garlic is pale gold at the edges (don’t let the garlic turn brown), 2 to 5 minutes.

3. Add beans, chopped tomatoes, 1/2 cup of water and 1 teaspoon salt to skillet; stir until beans are well coated with sauce. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until broth thickens, stirring occasionally, about 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Stir in lemon zest and parsley, and taste, adding more salt if needed. Garnish with reserved onions, more parsley, olive oil and red-pepper flakes, if you’d like. The beans thicken as they cool, but you can add more water to make them brothier if you like.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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