A Little Something on the Side: Tuscan Beans

by Terry B on March 7, 2007

Rosemary and mirepoix, a sautéed mix of onion, carrots and celery, are at the heart of rustic, delicious Tuscan beans. Two recipes below.

As much as possible, I try to be a “waste not, want not” kind of guy. So, having some nice rosemary left over from my last week’s Rosemary Apricots post done for Weekend Herb Blogging, I thought I’d make this simple, delicious side dish. Also being a “two birds, one stone” kind of guy, I decided to post this one on Weekend Herb Blogging too. This week, it’s hosted by the newly married Anna over at Morsels and Musings [best wishes, Anna!].

This recipe came together as much of my cooking does these days. I read a reference to Tuscan beans somewhere that made it sound like a flavorful, rustic side dish that would complement a host of main courses nicely—roasted chicken, chops, lamb shanks… But it only mentioned some of the ingredients and didn’t give a recipe. So I checked out Epicurious.com and Googled “tuscan beans.” That gave me a number of ideas for ingredients and variations, which I combined with an actual recipe for a simpler side dish I make using only white beans, rosemary, garlic and olive oil.

The simpler dish is a not bad side when you’re really pressed for time and want something interesting [see this recipe in Kitchen Notes]. This only slightly more involved dish can on occasion outshine the main course.

Tuscan Beans
Serves 4

1 medium onion, diced or finely chopped [see Kitchen notes]
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary needles [see Kitchen notes]
1 15-1/2 ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed [see Kitchen notes]
1 large clove garlic, minced
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat a large sauté pan or skillet over medium-low heat. Add olive oil, onion, carrot and celery to pan and “sweat” the vegetables for at least 15 minutes [longer if you have time], stirring frequently. The goal is to soften them, but keep them from browning. Reduce the heat, if necessary.

Gently stir in rosemary, beans and garlic and heat until warmed through, 3 to 5 minutes. If the beans seem too dry [they should have a gloss from the olive oil], drizzle more oil over the pan and gently stir it in. All this emphasis on using a gentle touch is because some canned white beans [most notably cannellini beans] can be fragile—with too much rough handling, overheating or even looking at them cross-eyed, the skins can begin to separate from the beans.

Remove from heat and stir in zest and lemon juice. May be served immediately or at room temperature. If serving at room temperature, place them in a serving dish to keep them from drying out. Stir once more just before serving to gloss the beans with the olive oil.

Kitchen Notes

Onions, carrots and celery. This mix of vegetables is called mirepoix. Classically at a ratio of two parts onions to one part carrots, one part celery, it is the basis for many soups, stews and other dishes. This is the simplest form here. You can enhance it with herbs, butter, bacon or ham or other additions.

Rosemary and other variations. While fresh rosemary is best, you can also use dried. Use about half the amount and add it to the vegetables as you begin to sauté them—this will help it soften up. I also make this recipe with dried sage sometimes instead of rosemary, adding it as I sauté the vegetables.

Choosing the beans. I know that cannellini beans [large white kidney beans] are the classic Italian choice. I generally find them too fragile, too ready to break up and have the skins split, leaving an ugly mess. My favorite canned white beans are Great Northern beans. First, I like their slightly smaller size [but they're not as small as Navy beans]. I also like that they’re a lot more forgiving and a lot less fragile.

Bonus Recipe
This is a super quick side and a refreshing change from potatoes or rice. After a moment or two of simple prep work, you don’t cook it until the rest of the meal is almost ready.

White Beans with Rosemary and Garlic
Serves 2 to 3 [can be doubled]

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary needles [or 1 tablespoon dried]
1 15-1/2 ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, minced
salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a sauté pan or large sauce pan and let stand on the stove while you prepare the rest of the meal. This will allow the flavors to swap around. Five minutes before the rest of the meal is ready to serve, heat over a medium-low to medium flame, stirring occasionally, until warmed through. Done!

SPECIAL NOTE: Be sure to check out the rest of the Weekend Herb Blogging at Morsels and Musings this coming Sunday.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

zoejessica March 7, 2007 at 6:52 am

Hi Terry, you’re right that beans cooked like this are perfect with all sorts of roast meat. They’re a great way to soak up the roasting juices, and their herby but subtle flavour are a perfect foil for the salty, crispy meat. Another really common way that beans are served in Tuscany is cooked “all’ uccelletto” with a little tomato passata, sage and rosemary, so that they become very soft and quite sweet – delicious with sausages. I’ll get my friend Giorgio to divulge his recipe and try it out…

Lydia March 7, 2007 at 11:11 am

The fresh rosemary is the key here — it marries so well with the beans. I remember watching a cooking show years ago (Frugal Gourmet, maybe?) where the beans — fresh Great Northerns that had been soaked overnight — were layered with rosemary and olive oil in a glass jar, which was then wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in a large pot with a couple of inches of water (hope I’m remembering this correctly) and cooked until the beans were soft. I’ve always wanted to try that…..

Mimi March 7, 2007 at 12:30 pm

Your post is sheer perfection, Terry B, from the colorful and enticing photo to the recipes, which look easy to make and delicious to eat.

And yes, it is a rustic sidedish — just what I like. I have always found this sort of thing elegant, even though it’s rustic.

Patricia Scarpin March 7, 2007 at 1:16 pm

I’m always so curious about how beans are cooked in other places! Especially other types of beans.
This dish looks so delicious, Terry! Those vegetables that I love so much with the beans, the olive oil… all these ingredients together would be wonderful, but adding rosemary makes it perfect.
Love your photos – they always make me want to run to the kitchen and cook. Even when I’m here, at the office, supposed to be working. ;)

Ronnie Ann March 7, 2007 at 5:01 pm

Aaaah Terry! This looks absolutely perfect. And the bonus recipe will be on my plate tonight. Even I can make that!

Carolyn March 7, 2007 at 9:41 pm

In my youth, we had a big pot of Great Northern Beans at least once a week. When my mother moved to Toronto, she couldn’t find them anywhere. We mailed her a large box full of them for a Christmas gift. We grumbled because we had to list the contents on top of the box (for Customs), which spoiled the surprise. Just thoughts and memories. No cooking comments (grin).

Susan from Food "Blogga" March 8, 2007 at 12:25 am

Terry, I love anything called “Tuscan.” I must admit I prefer cannelini–Progresso though, as they aren’t as mushy. I love this recipe–it’s fresh and fragrant with the rosemary.

Terry B March 8, 2007 at 6:26 am

Zoejessica—If you do get Giorgio to divulge his recipe, please share!

Lydia—Is that a recipe or a science experiment? Sounds interesting, but fraught with danger.

Mimi—You’re absolutely right. I think rustic dishes can have a simple elegance sometimes lacking in elaborate dishes that seem too fussed over.

Patricia—I think being in the office makes most of us want to run to the kitchen and cook!

Okay, Ronnie. I know how much New Yorkers love their delivery. Did you cook it? How’d it turn out?

Carolyn—A great story! Most people reading food blogs seem to savor those as much as the food stuff.

Susan—Thanks for the tip about the Progresso beans. I’ll have to try them.

Linda, The Village Vegetable March 8, 2007 at 7:56 pm

look at those colors. so lovely. i too got into a can of white beans recently :)

Ronnie Ann March 8, 2007 at 8:13 pm

OK Mr. Doubting Terry. (Who knows me way too well, I might add.) I did make them. BUT…it was frigging cold outside so I used what was around the apartment instead and did a non-white-bean hybrid of the two versions: small red beans, dried Tuscan herbs, dried rosemary, dried garlic, black pepper, celery, sweet onions, and olive oil. And, despite my blasphemy, it was still yummy! Totally brightened up the leftover rotisserie chicken and spinach pie that I did pick up the day before from my favorite middle eastern restaurant, the Waterfalls Cafe. And I’m having the leftover Tuscan garlic beans now. Thanks for the idea. Hmmm…wonder where I’ll get my take-out for tonight?

Toni March 8, 2007 at 11:24 pm

Every time I read your blog, I like you more and more. Thank you for giving us a recipe using canned beans! My late husband used to use canned food occasionally, and his trick for turning it into a gourmet meal was always to add fresh ingredients.

This dish looks perfect! I love the simplicity, the use of herbs, and I love your photography!

Terry B March 9, 2007 at 6:54 am

Ronnie—That’s not blasphemy, that’s improvisation. Beans are not unlike pasta in inviting almost endless variation. I’ve seen a couple of French recipes [I think] that involve green beans and white beans. I need to explore something along these lines soon.

Toni—Certain canned foods are not only convenient and good, they’re actually healthier than fresh. Something about canning corn and tomatoes actually ups their nutritional benefits, for instance. And specifically regarding the use of canned beans, I’ve used them for years in chili, but I recently read somewhere that no less than rock star chef David Burke says canned beans are fine. Who am I to argue?

Kalyn March 13, 2007 at 12:05 am

Sounds very good. Anything with beans and fresh rosemary has got to be a winner.

(BTW, I didn’t realize you were a man, so I hope I didn’t call you “her” last week!)

Terry B March 13, 2007 at 3:26 am

No problem, Kalyn. It’s the price of having an ambiguous first name.

Helene March 13, 2007 at 1:26 pm

Hi Terry,
thanks for this quick and easy yet so delicious recipe. Till now I used beans mostly in soups, because I was afraid of the mess they can be when overcooked. Your variation is a must try. Thanks :))

Oriana November 24, 2010 at 9:19 am

amazing pictures! congrats from tuscany – if you want to turn this recipe into more than just a side dish add large chunks of tuna and some pureed tomatoes while cooking the beans!

Gail December 15, 2011 at 12:01 am

Thanks for sharing this recipe, they are delicious and just what I was looking for. I’m trying to add more beans to our diet but don’t want them to always taste like the same old beans. Also, something I do to save money and avoid the sodium in canned beans is cook my own from dry beans. It’s incredibly easy, 1 cup of dried beans, 2 cups of water in a crock pot. Cook on low for about 3 hours. I usually cook them the day before I want to use then and refrigerated them overnight.

Terry B December 15, 2011 at 1:45 am

Thanks, Gail! I keep telling myself to cook more dried beans. Just never get around to it. Your comment may get me started.

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