Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Easy Tuscan Beans

I love beans. I toss them on salads, drop them into soups, and mix and mingle them in many a sauté. They are varied, versatile, diverse, and wide-ranging. As such, they are the consummate performers; perfect little harmonizers layered in the background of a dish, or featured up front and center (albeit usually with a few flavorful back-ups) to sing their rich and satisfying songs.

They can whisper sweet and mellow tunes with a mild, buttery smoothness, or exert sassier notes when mixed with a string of complementary seasonings.

While true foodies might turn up their noses at using anything but dried beans that are soaked and simmered to delicious goodness, canned beans truly work great in a variety of dishes...cold to hot, sautéed to souped. They are convenient, readily available...and quick. (If sodium is a concern, look for low-sodium brands and rinse the beans well before tossing them into what you're making.)

While I'm a fan of all beans...and there are many...cannellinis are one of my favorites. Like their more colorful "fraternal twin," the kidney bean, cannellinis have a distinct kidney shape. They are on the larger size and hold their structure well, making them a great choice for salads, traditional ragouts...and simple sautés like this. They have a slightly nutty and earthy taste and an accommodating ability to assume the layer of flavors around them. Here it's a rich layer of onion, garlic, Italian spices, wine, and tomatoes that set the stage for these little performers...what's not to love?

Easy Tuscan Beans
serves 4 (as an accompaniment to grilled poultry or fish)

2 14.5-ounce cans low-sodium cannellini beans (drained and rinsed)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (at least 1 cup chopped onion, more if preferred)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juices
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon dried basil
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley

6 slices bacon, diced (pancetta or turkey bacon work great as well)
2 to 3 cups chopped fresh spinach

1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until onions have softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, Italian seasoning, and basil. Mix well and continue simmering for another minute. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Add wine and broth. Simmer on low for another 5 to 7 minutes, until liquids have reduced down a bit.

* variation: Cook diced bacon (turkey bacon or pancetta) in skillet over medium-high heat. When browned, remove with slotted spoon to drain on paper towels. Add in a bit of olive oil to get 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil in pan. Add onion and garlic. Proceed with balance of recipe, adding bacon back into the mix, along with chopped spinach(after addition of wine). Or, for a meat-less dish, omit bacon and simply add chopped spinach after addition of wine.

2. Plate and sprinkle with chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley. Top with grilled chicken or fish...or serve as is.

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