The best recipes are as easy as they are delicious, utilizing the flavor inherent in great ingredients and fabulous taste combinations. This recipe is easy and fairly light, and translates easily into a vegetarian version by using vegetarian Parmesan.*
Creamy and slightly nutty Cannellini beans (a.k.a. great northern or white kidney beans) form the basis of a popular soup in Tuscany. The beans are complimented by vegetables, fresh herbs and most of all garlic. I have heard the story that it was made as a great way to soften up stale bread and when served over thick slices it makes a hearty, healthy, filling dinner. A few of the recipes for Tuscan Cannellini bean soup suggest using grated Parmesan. I suggest using the brilliant, authentically Italian trick of using Parmesan rind to flavor the broth. It really ramps up the flavor, slightly boosting the beans' nuttiness and adding a pleasantly salty richness. If you want to make a vegetarian version but can't get your hands on a vegetarian Parmesan cheese, swap out the water for low sodium or homemade vegetable broth. I served this stew ladled over crusty multigrain bread and alongside a version of my smoked trout & citrus vinaigrette salad .
Tuscan Cannellini Bean Stew
(Makes approx 6 servings)
2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced into roughly 1/2" pieces
2 carrots, scrubbed and sliced into 1/2" pieces
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
3 - 4 sprigs Italian (or flat) parsley, leaves and stems chopped finely
3 cups water
1 rind of a Parmesan wedge
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
6 thickly cut slices of bread of your choice
1. Set a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat and add olive oil and garlic and allow to marry, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
2. Turn up the heat and add parsley and all veggies and sautee for about 5 minutes. Stir frequently.
3. Add beans, butter, water and Parmesan rind and salt and pepper and bring to a lazy boil.
4. Continue to cook at just above a simmer (lazy boil) for about 35 to 45 minutes. As you stir, gently mash the beans with the back of the cooking spoon. This will help some of the bean paste to thicken the broth.
5. Slice stale bread or toast sliced fresh bread. Ladle stew over bread and serve.
I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!
*A quick internet search tells me that at least one big box store carries a brand of Parmesan made with vegetable rennet.