I’m originally a Louisiana girl and down there beans come in two varieties: red and white. Red are kidney beans and white are navy beans. We don’t go much farther than that. (Just forget lentils entirely. What are they?) Now that I’m a Texan, it’s pinto or black beans, almost exclusively.
So it makes sense that I still look at the wide world of bean recipes with an odd sense of wonder. Even simple recipes take my fancy like they’re the most innovative dishes I’ve ever seen. I don’t need molecular gastronomy just yet — I’m still finding great pleasure in the basics. Especially when the basics are easy, low-fuss, and nutritious, like these cannellini beans with tomatoes and chard.
Cannellini beans are white kidney beans, longer and a tad sturdier than smaller, rounder navy beans. They have a mellow, earthy flavor. You could start with dry beans and cook them until tender, but for me, good canned cannellini are just too easy and quick to bother with all that.
The tender beans are quickly simmered with garlic, sweet canned plum tomatoes, a bit of dried red chile flakes for heat, and silky wilted chard. The bones of this recipe come from Lidia Bastianich, but I’ve tweaked it for my taste by adding oregano and fresh basil for more oomph along with a grating of salty Parmesan over the top. The result is a steaming bowl of comfort food, good for a side dish or a meal on its own.
The La. girl in me required a wedge of hot, crispy cornbread with my beans, and a few slices of hot Italian sausage mixed in would have really sent me to the moon. It’s probably due to all those bowls of red beans with andouille I grew up with, but still, a bit of sausage would have made this dish even more fabulous.
Cannellini with Tomatoes and Swiss Chard
A quickly simmered dish of mellow beans, sweet tomatoes, and silky wilted chard, topped with salty Parmesan cheese. Great as a vegetarian main dish or as side dish for grilled meats.
Serves 4 as a main dish
Adapted from Lidia’s Italy on PBS.
1 Tbs. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 (19 oz.) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 (28 oz.) can peeled plum tomatoes packed in puree
1 bunch chard, ends trimmed and leaves chopped into large chunks
2 Tbs. tomato paste
dried red pepper flakes
1 pinch sugar
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
2 Tbs. fresh basil, minced
salt and pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.
Pour canned tomatoes into a bowl and use your hand to gently crush the whole tomatoes into rough pieces.
In a large high-sided skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the drained beans, tomatoes with juices, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, oregano, sugar, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer uncovered until thickened, about 10 minutes.
Drop the chard into boiling water, blanch for 30-45 seconds or until just tender. Drain well. Stir chard into beans. Add fresh basil and adjust seasonings. Remove from heat.
Serve hot with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
**UPDATE: I’ve now also made this without bothering to blanch the chard first. Instead, just chop the chard into 1″ pieces and stir into the simmering beans. Easier and just as good!