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THE CONFIDENT COOK

Recipe: Bake cannellini beans in a light tomato sauce with a Parmesan crust

Baked Cannellini Beans with a Parmesan Crust.Sheryl Julian

Serves 6

You wouldn't think that dried white beans should have a pull date (aren't they dried?), but if you leave them in the pantry for a long time -- for half a decade the way many people do -- they’ll take a very long time to soften. Some cooks discovered this early in the pandemic, when supermarket shelves were thin and consumers were turning to their own shelves. Sometimes beans that had languished there, forgotten, would take a couple of hours to soften, even after soaking. Dried white beans, when cooked, should be meltingly tender with a texture that can only be described as creamy. Canned beans are a very good substitute, but they often lack the flavor of artisan beans. Heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo in Napa, Calif. are distinctive, as are Baer’s Best Beans heirlooms from fields in South Berwick, Maine. A simple way to prepare cannellini beans is to bake them in light tomato sauce covered with a Parmesan crust (the crust is just grated cheese mixed with panko, the dried white breadcrumbs). To cook the beans until they’re very tender, first soak them overnight, then simmer them for an hour, or until they’re fully cooked. Mix them with the fresh-tasting sauce, sprinkle with the cheese, and send them into the oven for another hour. You can brown sausage in the tomato sauce, as Molly Stevens does in her very good book, “All About Dinner,” or serve the vegetarian version with a mound of sauteed greens on the side. It's an easy recipe to master, but allow plenty of time. Each new package of dried beans will take a different amount of simmering time to soften. But you end up with a cheap, nourishing, hearty meal for very little effort.

cups dried cannellini beans, or other small white beans
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Olive oil (for sprinkling)
2tablespoons olive oil
1medium onion, coarsely chopped
1clove garlic, halved
1can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes crushed in a bowl
Pinch of crushed red pepper
2tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
½cup vegetable or chicken stock, or more if needed
½cup panko breadcrumbs or other unseasoned dry white breadcrumbs
½cup grated Parmesan

1. In a large bowl, combine the beans and cold water to cover by several inches. Set aside overnight.

2. Drain and rinse the beans with cold water. In a large flameproof casserole, combine the beans and a generous pinch of salt with water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil, skim the surface as scum rises, and lower the heat. Set on the cover askew. Simmer the beans for 55 to 60 minutes, or until they are tender when tasted. If they are not tender and the water is evaporating, add more water to the pan and continue cooking. They should be completely cooked at this point.

3. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Lightly oil a deep 12-to-13-inch baking dish (2 quart capacity).

4. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil. When it is hot, add the onion, salt, and black pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 8 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more.

5. Tip the tomatoes into the pan (they may sputter). Add a generous pinch of red pepper and bring to a boil, stirring. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the oregano.

6. When the beans are tender, drain them into a colander; do not rinse. Return to the pan. Add the tomato sauce and stir gently until all the beans are coated. Add 1/4 cup of the vegetable or chicken stock and stir to blend it in. The mixture should be loose, not quite soupy. Add more stock, if needed. Spoon the beans and sauce into the baking dish.

7. In a bowl, stir the breadcrumbs and Parmesan to blend them. Spoon the mixture over the white beans until they are completely covered. Transfer to the oven and bake for 55 minutes, or until the cheese topping is golden and the beans are bubbling at the edges.

Sheryl Julian

Serves 6

You wouldn't think that dried white beans should have a pull date (aren't they dried?), but if you leave them in the pantry for a long time -- for half a decade the way many people do -- they’ll take a very long time to soften. Some cooks discovered this early in the pandemic, when supermarket shelves were thin and consumers were turning to their own shelves. Sometimes beans that had languished there, forgotten, would take a couple of hours to soften, even after soaking. Dried white beans, when cooked, should be meltingly tender with a texture that can only be described as creamy. Canned beans are a very good substitute, but they often lack the flavor of artisan beans. Heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo in Napa, Calif. are distinctive, as are Baer’s Best Beans heirlooms from fields in South Berwick, Maine. A simple way to prepare cannellini beans is to bake them in light tomato sauce covered with a Parmesan crust (the crust is just grated cheese mixed with panko, the dried white breadcrumbs). To cook the beans until they’re very tender, first soak them overnight, then simmer them for an hour, or until they’re fully cooked. Mix them with the fresh-tasting sauce, sprinkle with the cheese, and send them into the oven for another hour. You can brown sausage in the tomato sauce, as Molly Stevens does in her very good book, “All About Dinner,” or serve the vegetarian version with a mound of sauteed greens on the side. It's an easy recipe to master, but allow plenty of time. Each new package of dried beans will take a different amount of simmering time to soften. But you end up with a cheap, nourishing, hearty meal for very little effort.

cups dried cannellini beans, or other small white beans
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Olive oil (for sprinkling)
2tablespoons olive oil
1medium onion, coarsely chopped
1clove garlic, halved
1can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes crushed in a bowl
Pinch of crushed red pepper
2tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
½cup vegetable or chicken stock, or more if needed
½cup panko breadcrumbs or other unseasoned dry white breadcrumbs
½cup grated Parmesan

1. In a large bowl, combine the beans and cold water to cover by several inches. Set aside overnight.

2. Drain and rinse the beans with cold water. In a large flameproof casserole, combine the beans and a generous pinch of salt with water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil, skim the surface as scum rises, and lower the heat. Set on the cover askew. Simmer the beans for 55 to 60 minutes, or until they are tender when tasted. If they are not tender and the water is evaporating, add more water to the pan and continue cooking. They should be completely cooked at this point.

3. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Lightly oil a deep 12-to-13-inch baking dish (2 quart capacity).

4. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil. When it is hot, add the onion, salt, and black pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 8 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more.

5. Tip the tomatoes into the pan (they may sputter). Add a generous pinch of red pepper and bring to a boil, stirring. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the oregano.

6. When the beans are tender, drain them into a colander; do not rinse. Return to the pan. Add the tomato sauce and stir gently until all the beans are coated. Add 1/4 cup of the vegetable or chicken stock and stir to blend it in. The mixture should be loose, not quite soupy. Add more stock, if needed. Spoon the beans and sauce into the baking dish.

7. In a bowl, stir the breadcrumbs and Parmesan to blend them. Spoon the mixture over the white beans until they are completely covered. Transfer to the oven and bake for 55 minutes, or until the cheese topping is golden and the beans are bubbling at the edges.Sheryl Julian


Sheryl Julian can be reached at sheryl.julian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.