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August 2, 2007

Cannellini beans (Recipe: no-cook summer antipasto)

Cannellini

Could there be a more "foods of the world" can in my pantry?

In Italian: cannellini beans. In Spanish, alubias.

Nowhere does it say white kidney beans, and yet I bought this at the market in my small town, which really is more of a white kidney bean kind of place.

Are canned beans just a convenience, a lesser substitute for dry beans? Yes, and no. Of course they are a convenience; when I've forgotten to pre-soak my dry beans, or just don't have enough time to cook, canned beans are right there in the pantry, ready for action. Mostly, though, I think of canned beans as an entirely different food product. In dishes that depend on the texture of the beans, I start with dry beans, soak them overnight, and cook them until just soft, but if I'm making a dish in which the beans will be smashed -- a dip, or soup, or salad, or bruschetta -- I prefer to start with canned beans.

Cannellini, so popular in Tuscany that the Tuscan people have been nicknamed mangiafagiole, or "beaneaters", originally were cultivated in Argentina, and now are grown in Greece, France and central Italy. During the 16th Century, due to Catherine de Medici's attempts to "refine" Italian cuisine, beans were seldom eaten except by the peasant class. However, because of their nutritious (high in fiber, iron, magnesium and folate) and economical benefits, beans slowly returned to favor in Italian cooking, and their popularity spread throughout the northern Mediterranean cuisines.

The mild-flavored cannellini bean, shaped like (and closely related to) a kidney bean, can be used interchangeably with Great Northern or navy beans in most recipes. You'll want to drain and rinse the beans, which will "refresh" them and remove any excess salt, though some recipes use a bit of the reserved liquid as a thickener. Canned beans are fully cooked, so should be added to most dishes close to the end of the cooking time.

I always have cannellini in the cupboard, for a quick pasta supper, an elegant white bean stew, a hearty bowl of baked beans, a flavorful dip for pita triangles or crudites, or a Big Fat Greek Salad.

No-cook summer antipasto

Antipasto isn't an exact science; the more people you have, the more food you pile on the platter. Use your imagination and your painter's eye; combine colors and textures, and have plenty of good crusty bread on hand. Add meat and cheese, if you wish. This recipe -- more a method than a recipe -- is a pantry lover's dream. Serves 8-10.

Ingredients

Arrange on a platter, any way you wish, in a design or scattered as the base of the antipasto:

1 cup mesclun salad mix, or romaine lettuce
1-2 blood oranges or other seedless oranges, peeled and sliced crosswise
1 large red (sweet) pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large green pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 large plum tomatoes (or other tomatoes, in season), cut into large chunks
1 large cucumber or English cuke, peeled, cut lengthwise,
    then into half-rounds
3-4 radishes, cut into chunks
2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces1 sweet white onion, sliced into half-rounds
1 fennel bulb (anise), sliced thin (save the leafy tops for garnish)

1 16-oz can black pitted olives (large or colossal)
6-oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 3-3/8 oz jar green Spanish olives with red pimientos
1 8-1/4 oz can whole beets
1 3-oz can Italian tuna in oil
1 small can cannellini beans, drained

For the dressing:
1/4 cup vinegar (red wine or balsamic)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Arrange the salad ingredients on a platter.

In a jar, shake the dressing ingredients until well-mixed, and pour over the antipasto.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Everything-in-the-pantry bean soup

Comments

I´m totally pro_cans in beans. I think I´m not capable of cooking them as well as the canning people. Here in Spain we have really wonderful top quality beans in glass jars, they look beautiful on a countertop too.

In Spain ALL beans are alubias... white, red, pink... That's why I used to get so frustrated with my Spanish lessons! What's this(white kidney beans)? Alubias. Okay, so what's this(small red beans)? Alubias.
They eat them by the tons, all canned - or, rather, jarred. I love them, and (hangs head in embarrassement) almost never use the dried ones. I toss them into everything...
BTW, great dish!

I too find beans in cans or jars the best and easiest. Using beans, legumes in cans allows for quick dips, salads etc. I recently made a hummus with cannellini beans. It was realy great.

I do like to use fresh cooked beans in some dishes, but actually many times I've been pleasantly surprised to get very good results from canned beans. And you're right that in any recipe where the beans will be pureed or mashed, it makes total sense to use canned ones. (Dare I confess, I recently made my own hummus for the very first time, and the canned garbanzos were great. And I found myself wondering why it took me so long to make hummus!)

Hi Lydia.How timely. I think this just might work work for the white been puree soup I just spied in the recent Bon Appetit magazine since it asks for the Great Northern beans.

I've used canned beans for years, even though I somehow felt I was cheating. But when I heard uberchef David Burke bless canned beans, I finally felt they could come out of the closet, er, pantry.

I make a quick, no-cook dish with one or two cans of cannellini, a can of imported tuna with the oil it's packed in, half a red onion chopped, some parsley and salt and pepper. Very tasty for something so simple.

Except for lentils, I've never had luck successfully cooking dried pulses. Perhaps if I used a pressure cooker, but I don't have the space for another appliance.

Lobster, it's not as easy to cook beans properly as it seems like it should be! There's a small window between well-cooked and overcooked, and I often seem to end up with overcooked beans when I start with dried ones. So I'm a fan of canned beans, too.

Katie, I'm giggling. I'm so bad at learning languages, I could never deal with the confusion of one name for so many different beans!

Meeta, cannellini bean hummus sounds fabulous. I will definitely have to try that!

Kalyn, I never ever cook garbanzos -- I always use the canned. After a couple of bad experiences with completely undercooked beans, I decided I'd never cook garbanzos from scratch again! But making my own hummus -- that I've been doing for years. I love that you can control both the texture and the amount of garlic when you make your own! Glad you've joined the fold.

Veron, I just got my Bon Appetit and I'm running to find that recipe!

Terry, I know just the dish you mean -- I've made something similar with red kidney beans. I guess it's a popular Italian recipe, but I had never tried it until the owner of our neighborhood supermarket in Boston made it for me. What a wonderful combination, beans and tuna and onion. Who knew?!

Susan, I do well enough cooking most beans from scratch, except garbanzos... but unless I'm making a soup that's going to cook forever, I really use canned beans more often. And I have a healthy fear of pressure cookers, probably from the old days when my grandmother's exploded in the kitchen!

Canned beans here are not very used, Lydia, I think that's why we don't have many varieties (unless they're imported).
I have never used canned beans because we don't eat beans a lot - and when we do, it's the rice and beans typical from here, and the beans must be freshly cooked.
I use canned chickpeas a lot, though. ;)

I prefer using canned beans too - pre-soaking those dry beans just seem too much work although it's just SOAKING. The problem - what if I decide to change my "to-cook" dish the next day? Then I have to think of what to do with the soaked beans!!!

I love these beans and get the Goya brand. I prefer the canned, too, as opposed to the dry beans. Less work. ;-)

Paz

Lydia, I am a big fan of beans! And although I love freshly cooked beans, I normally opt for the canned version isntead. :)

This is really lovely summertime "cooking" - at it's best. White beans are some of the very best. I think I would surely enjoy this. I like goya brand and a Whole Foods brand in glass jars.

Patricia, I've often had black beans and rice in a Brazilian restaurant in Boston, and I know that those beans are dried, not canned. And they are delicious!

Tigerfish, that's happened to me -- soaked beans ready to be cooked, but I've changed my mind.... there's nothing to do but to go ahead and cook them!

Paz, I'm all for less work, especially in the summer.

Anh, I only use dried beans occasionally; more often I use the canned ones. It's just so easy.

Tanna, I'll have to look for the Whole Foods cannellini beans next time I'm at the market.

Did you end up finding the Bon Ap recipe??? I'm curious to see if the soup was good!!!!

Pretty please post precipe!

I think I may have been a peasant in Europe in my past life because I adore beans! All kinds, and cannelini beans are no exception. I make a cannelini dip that's quite wonderful, with lemon and garlic. But I'd love to see more recipes for it.

Oh how I love beans of any and every kind! This recipe sounds delicious.

A really interesting article :) I like cannelini beans although I tend to only use them in a Jamie Oliver (Happy Days) chicken recipe! Actually I must look up that recipe again...

Your involtini sounds so good, just the thing for a warm summer day!

Steamy, I got sidetracked while rummaging around in my pantry, and ended up making some Cuban shrimp with rice instead! The recipe will show up soon on epicurious.com, I'm sure.

Christine, I do love bean dips -- I make something similar to yours, and add some rosemary or thyme from my garden.

Kristen, it's delicious and completely adaptable to your own taste (and pantry!).

Kelly-Jane, beans are one of the foods I get cravings for. I'll go for long periods without eating them, and then, all of a sudden, I can't get enough. I love making huge platters of this kind of antipasto. It's fun to mix colors and textures.

Oh, that platter of antipasto sounds sooo good right now...we are simply boiling out here in St. Louis.
I discovered cannelini beans only here in the US. I agree with you, I think of canned beans as a different sort of animal. Usually, I cook my own, in a pressure cooker, where it takes only minutes.

I love this sort of antipasto! Cheers!

favorite year round way to cook em - Fagioli all'Uccelletto - depending on the recipe source, canned beans, olive oil, sage, tomato, and garlic.

Mmmm...your recipe sounds delicious. Are these beans often used in three bean salads? I recall red beans, green beans, and a white bean of sorts but never knew what it was.

Nupur, we're frying here in New England, too, so anything that doesn't require cooking is very appealing today. I still have the image of my grandmother's pressure cooker exploding all over her kitchen, so I haven't yet made the leap to the new generation of cookers that are supposed to be so wonderful and fast. Will have to do that....

CC, thanks -- I love it, too.

Shawn, that sounds completely yummy.

Hillary, I'm not a connoisseur of the three-bean, but I think you're right, these were the "white." The reds were kidney beans. Would be nice to update that recipe, wouldn't it? I remember three-bean salad being a horrible oily mess when they served it at my summer camp!

Lydia, that's a great distinction - dried beans offer texture, and canned beans are great for mashing. I tend to fall back on canned beans as a convenience step in all bean recipes, but you make a good case that the different textures are worth experiencing.

I never knew people from Tuscany had that nickname! Fascinating. I personally love these beans, whether mashed up and eaten with spices on thick slices of baguette, or mixed into a salad. Yum.

I must admit I have a soft spot for Progresso cannellini beans. They're so meaty and creamy, and they just make it so easy for a quick, delicious meal with pasta. My mom says her family isn't from Tuscany, but given my love for beans, I might have to investigate. ;)

Hi Lydia, Thanks for the suggestions of how to use these beans. I only ever use it in stews, so the pasta idea is a good one because I eat a lot of vegetarian pastas and never thought of adding beans to the sauce.

TW, there are a few dishes (black beans and rice, or black bean soup) where it absolutely makes a difference to start from dried beans. And there are others, like hummus, where it absolutely makes sense to start with canned beans. I'm not a purist, but once you taste the difference, you'll want to use dried beans from time to time.

Ari, I too love the mashed-beans-on-toast kind of dish. I'll spice it up with cumin and coriander, or with fresh herbs from the garden.

Susan, Progresso beans are wonderful, right from the can.

Nora, beans and pasta are a great combination. Be sure to rinse the beans before you use them.

I believe that the mere existence of canned beans sends a message that it's too hard to cook them from dry, let us do it for you. I prefer your thinking that each has its place. I think the canning process is something like pressure cooking, so they're never al dente. I used to have a technique for cooking dry beans in a crockpot, total no brainer with very soft results...and I've forgotten it! Any advice?

I always keep different kinds of canned beans on hand. They have saved my butt on many occasions, when I was doing some sort of last minute cooking.

Susan, I agree, canned beans are never al dente, which really does make them an entirely different product from fresh-cooked dry beans. I don't use a crockpot, so I'm throwing this question out to readers:

Do you cook beans in a crockpot, and if so, what's your technique?

Sher, canned beans are so great as a last-minute add-in for pasta, salads, pizza... What else do you use them for?

I never met a bean that I didn't like! Also, with being Italian, we use cannelini beans a lot. Here is a favorite recipe that I use often.

Coat a non-stick pan with EVOO (2 tbls) add 2 cloves of minced garlic, a small yellow or white onion and cook until soft. Add 2 cans of beans with some of the liquid drained off, keep the rest and just add that to the pan. Add some red crushed pepper, black pepper and a touch of salt. Saute' until the beans break up some, add a cup of Parmesean cheese and cook until creamy. Add a handful of fresh parsley and serve on a platter with some sauted Rabi and Italian sausage...make sure to have lots of Italian bread also.

Bon Appetit!

P.S. I use Progresso Cannelinni beans...

Pam, great recipe! Thanks so much -- I do love it when readers share their recipes here. The only "bean" I'm really not crazy about is garbanzos -- though I love hummus. Just don't like the garbanzos as much as whole beans.

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