by Chef Isabella
I grew up eating beans and I haven’t stopped. Seriously, if someone strong-armed me to pick just one type of food to live on, it would be beans– provided they are fresh ones. Sure I love how they taste, but I also think they hold some sort of sentimental value to me. One of my favorite memories of when I was a little girl was sitting outside of my grandparent’s pergola shelling beans by the case with my little sister.
As much as you might think that I’m a bean snob considering I try to always go for fresh, I’m really not. I will buy and use dry beans and you can even find some cans of beans in my pantry that I use as a back up supply. Beans are versatile, delicious, high in fiber and protein and contain Vitamins A and C, so in all honesty, I’ll take them in any form I can get. For those of us who want to lose or maintain our weight, beans are like a secret mini-weapon. In a recent study, bean eaters weighed, on average, 7 pounds less and had slimmer waists than their bean-avoiding counterparts
I realize that it’s sometimes difficult to get your hands on fresh beans. When you can get them, they need to be used almost immediately because they have a short shelf life. If you’re going to store them, do so in an air-tight container, refrigerate it and use within 5 days.
There are also some things to take into consideration when purchasing dried or canned beans., too. According to Mayo Clinic, both dried and canned beans provide a low-calorie, low-fat, affordable source of protein and carbohydrates. They also provide soluble fiber, a form of fiber that helps lower your cholesterol and stabilize your blood sugar. Dried beans can last up to 10 years if stored properly in a cool, dry place. They are also low in salt. The only drawback is that dried beans need to be soaked in order to rehydrate them (preferably overnight). Even after all of that soaking, they need to be boiled for 1 or 2 hours, being careful not to overcook them so they don’t fall apart. So they take time, but if that’s not an issue, the time used in prepping them is worth it, at least to me.
Canned beans, on the other hand, are amazingly convenient. All the prep work (shelling, soaking, boiling) is already done. They have a shelf life of about 5 years and the no-salt versions are just about as healthy for you as the fresh and dried varieties. I personally notice the difference in taste, but many people won’t. The truth is, beans are nutritional powerhouse in almost any form!
With summer still here, this is great time to experiment with some bean salad recipes. Try a cannellini, kidney or even cranberry bean salad. If you’re going fresh, all you have to do is boil the beans, toss them with some thinly sliced onions, olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and chopped parsley and there you have it! Or, by adding more onion, tomato, sage, and pancetta (Italian bacon) you could have a delicious stew! If you want to use canned beans in place of the fresh, just pull out the can opener, drain the beans and start tossing.
Branch out and try a variety of different types of beans. I say this because, we have a tendency to stick with the tried-and-true. Each variety will have a different flavor and texture. And for those who like the flavor of beans but not the texture, puree the beans. Then add them to your soup, or use the puree for dips or as a sandwich spread.
Here’s a bean dish that I want to share with you! It was featured at one of my cooking classes and it’s a classic: Minestroni di fagioli. It was quite the hit and I think you’ll love it:
Minestrone di fagioli (Bean and Kale soup)
2 -15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3 oz. pancetta, small diced
1 lb. kale, cleaned, large stalks removed then cut into thin strips
1 lb. savoy cabbage, cleaned and cut into thin strips
2 medium-sized carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 large celery stalks, finely chopped
2 red onions, cleaned and finely chopped
2 tbsp. parsley leaves, minced
5 basil leaves, minced
1 lb. ripe tomatoes
1 sprig fresh tarragon
Heat a large soup pot. Add pancetta and let cook few minutes until fat start to melt. Add carrot, celery, onion and herbs to it; let cook few minutes. Add cabbage and kale. Cook for 10 minutes.
Pour about 2 qtr. of water into pot and bring to a boil. Add tomatoes and simmer for at least 1 hour. Add ¾ of the beans, adjust seasoning and let cook 10 more minutes. Pass the soup through a food mill 2 times into a second stockpot. Place pot on the stove over medium heat, taste for salt and pepper and add tarragon.
The minestrone is supposed to have a rather thick consistency. Add the remaining beans to the stockpot and cook 5 more minutes. Divide into 12 servings and serve.