Cannellini beans are the most commonly used bean in the region of Tuscany. They are small and chalky-white in color. They are the prized ingredient of vegetable minestrone, and the even more famous ribollita – made of winter vegetables – day-old bread and new olive oil. My favorite way to eat these beans is baked into a thick perfumed jam in tomato, with garlic and rosemary. Warm out of the oven, I smash them and serve them on thick slices of grilled sour dough bread. Just like hummus, they make a crowd-pleasing appetizer and accompany every kind of picnic plan.
- 250 grams cannellini beans
- one small potato
- one small tomato
- 2 stalks of celery
- one organic lemon
- 4 bay leaves
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 small can of plum tomatoes (weighing 400 grams including its juices)
- or when in season . four large beefy tomatoes
- 50 grams of olive oil
- 5 grams sea salt
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
Rinse the dried cannellini in a colander, removing any small stones or grit. Put the beans in a large bowl and cover them with 1 liter of water. Add two bay leaves to the bowl, as this will add a subtle flavor to the dish later. Soak the cannellini eight hours or overnight. Drain and rinse the beans while saving the bay leaves for the cooking process.
Place the beans in a pan, covering them generously with cold water. Meanwhile, wash the celery stalks and cut them into sticks. Scrub the potato, wash and core the tomato and cut the lemon in half. Drop all the ingredients including the bay leaves from the soaking process. Simmer the cannellini one hour on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the beans are cooked al dente (soft yet with a bite). Turn off the heat. Add a generous spoon of sea salt and let the beans swell in their cooking water while preparing the second phase of their preparation in the oven.
Preheat the oven to 175° Celsius. Pour the plum tomatoes and their juices into a deep oven dish. Crush the tomatoes with a fork. Add the olive oil and sea salt. Peel the garlic cloves and cut them in half. Add the garlic, rosemary and thyme. Drain cannellini and pour them over the tomatoes and herbs. cover the beans with a piece of parchment paper and slide them into the oven. Bake the cannellini 45 minutes. Remove the parchment paper and toss the beans through the tomato juices. Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil over the beans at this point and return them to the oven to bake another thirty minutes. The cannellini are ready when the tomato juices have turned into a thick jam and the beans are just beginning to brown along the edges. Remove the cannellini from the oven. Flavor them with your favorite salt crystals (I use Celtic sea salt), a grinding of black pepper (or even some dried red pepper). Squeeze the second half of the lemon over the beans and smash them a bit with a fork.
Serve the cannellini warm with a salad made with the slightly bitter leaves of Belgian endive or red radicchio. Cannellini go well with purple olives from the southern Italian city of Gaeta, or the Kalamata olives of Greece. Stir them through pasta, topping each dish with a few grilled shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico, or from the Mediterranean Sea, depending upon where you live.
Use two tender stalks of the celery to make a fine dice. Toss the raw celery over the baked beans, adding a bit of dried red pepper flakes if so desired. Serve the beans with crusty baked bread. Imagine these beans with a few slivers of anchovy filet served with fresh sprigs of rosemary.
My friend Luisa inspired me to create this dish. She uses the borlotti bean of the Veneto for a stove-top side dish made with sautéed onions, tomatoes and cloves. This recipe will be included some day in a book I plan to write entitled ‘Bellissimi ricordi di famgilia’ – otherwise translated as “Beautiful Family Memories”.
This recipe is my twist on one of Jamie’s 10 Food Revolution recipes. I gladly contribute to Mr. Oliver’s campaign as super ambassador of the Food Revolution. I too feel that teaching and passing on cooking skills to friends and family makes life not only more meaningful but infinitely more valuable on an emotional level. Read more on this here.