Whether canned or dried, beans are the backbone of any strong pantry. Strong, like silent soldiers, waiting to leap into action to help you create a meal. With a strong pantry you will never go hungry, even when you are too tired to go to the grocery store.
While canned beans are good for certain recipes or when you are short on time, nothing can beat a dish started with dried beans. Soaked overnight and cooked slowly the next day, great are the rewards in flavor for healthy dishes like this simple white bean salad. Add a generous amount of fresh chopped herbs, salt, pepper, and olive oil and you have a satisfying side dish for grilled chicken, shrimp, pork or beef.
Mix your beans with canned tuna (I buy low mercury tuna from Wild Planet) for a terrific lunch. Cook a batch and enjoy them for a few days. They hold well in the refrigerator.
It wasn’t until I discovered Rancho Gordo that I really began to cook with dried beans. Based in Napa, California, Rancho Gordo brings high quality heirloom dried beans to market. Beans that are grown in limited quantities. Beans that have better flavor and texture than your generic super market dried beans. Beans that are fresh. Once I tried their bean varieties, dried beans became a constant in my pantry. My favorite and the one I can’t live without? Cannellini beans.
Big, white, creamy-tender pillows, Cannellini beans are very versatile. I use them in soups, salads, stews and side dishes with wonderful results. Cannellini beans are good for you and an inexpensive source of protein. If you are vegetarian or vegan, these beans are your “meat”.
For this white bean salad, start the beans soaking before you go to bed. The next day, cook them and finish the salad. Serve chilled or at room temperature with lots of fresh herbs and a little olive oil. Sometimes I add crumbled feta cheese or Parmesan.
Sometimes I serve them as a side dish. Sometimes I just have a small bowl as a healthy afternoon snack. For dinner, I’ll top with my beans with grilled chicken or shrimp. Cannellini beans are incredibly versatile.
Once you understand the simplicity of cooking dried beans, they will become a canvas for many wonderful dishes in your kitchen. Make them what you want.
SHORT CUT NOTE – to short cut this recipe when you just don’t have time to start with dried beans, use 3 – 15 ounces (425 gram) cans of organic Cannellini beans. Rinse and drain first, then use.
Summer White Bean Salad
Don’t be daunted by the length of this recipe. It’s really easy. It just takes a little time and thinking ahead. While I’ve made this salad with canned beans, it’s best starting with good quality dried Cannellini beans. I order mine from Rancho Gordo in Napa, California. Soak your beans overnight and cook them the next day, or even a day ahead. This salad works beautifully served at room temperature or chilled, great for summer dinners and picnics. Add any herbs that please you – rosemary, mint, basil, oregano, chives. Crumbled feta and shaved Parmesan cheese work nice too.
To use canned beans, buy 3-15 ounce (425 gram) cans organic Cannellini beans, rinse, drain and continue with the vinaigrette to finish
Serves: about 6 (and scales down easily, I use 1 can for the two of us)
Beans (if using dried)
- 1 pound (454 grams) dried Cannellini beans
- 7-8 cups (2L) of filtered water
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil
- ½ cup (72 grams) diced celery (chopped small)
- ½ cup (72 grams) diced carrot (chopped small)
- 1 cup (144 grams) diced onion (chopped small)
- 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 large dried bay leaf
- Kosher or sea salt and black pepper, as needed
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 1-2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped (minced)
- 3/4 teaspoon (3 grams) kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon (1 gram) ground black pepper
- 2-3 teaspoons fresh finely chopped rosemary
- 1 generous tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf (Italian) parsley
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
- 1 -2 teaspoons fresh chopped oregano
- Additional good quality extra virgin olive oil to drizzle over salad at serving
Soak Beans Over Night (if starting with dried beans)
- Pick through the beans for any broken pieces or debris and discard. Place beans in a large enough container to hold both the beans and water. I use an 8 cup (2 quart/2 L) measuring container. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Cook Beans (day of or a day ahead)
- When you are ready to cook your beans, warm 2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil over medium heat in a large heavy pot. I use a 5 ½ quart Le Creuset Dutch oven (2-3L), sometimes called a French oven. Add celery, carrot, onion and garlic to the pot and cook until vegetables are softened, turning down the heat if necessary. You want to “sweat” the vegetables, which is cooking them slowly without getting any color on them.
- When vegetables are soft, pour in your beans and water and add the bay leaf. Bring the pot to a boil, then turn down the heat to low. Cover the beans and simmer gently for approximately 2-3 hours. Last time I made them mine took 2 hours, but timing can vary. Check the beans occasionally to make sure they are covered by water. Beans are done when they are soft and tender to the bite. When beans are almost there, add salt and pepper to season.
- When beans are done, gently strain off the water and allow the beans to cool. Beans can be refrigerated covered at this point for a day or two, or continue with the recipe.
Finish the White Bean Salad
- Start by making the vinaigrette dressing. In a small bowl whisk together the lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir in the herbs. Pour dressing over the beans and mix gently so you don’t break up the beans.
- At serving time, taste the beans and add additional salt and pepper if needed, then drizzle with good olive oil.
Notes on additions:
This is a versatile recipe. Make it your own by adding halved grapeseed tomatoes (fresh, roasted or sun-dried), feta or Parmesan cheese, or other herbs. Mint is terrific. Thinly sliced shallots are a good addition too.
Links to other recipes and instructions that might be helpful:
These beans go great with Grilled Lemon Mint Chicken
Fold in some Roast Baby Tomatoes with Thyme for wonderful flavor and color
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