There’s a myth out there about from-scratch beans. Making your own legumes, starting at their hard-as-nails stage, then soaking them overnight, and finally cooking them gently for hours—can turn out really well. I’ve used them to make some marvelous dinners. But occasionally you’ll get a bag that’s been on the shelf too long, or just isn’t great quality. As you cook these beans, their skins will shed, and the insides remain tough. I once simmered beans for a good six hours before giving up on them.
One of my favorite meal shortcuts involves a big can of Goya cannellini beans, which I always try to have on hand. (I’m not the only one who loves them; they are a favorite of the Cook’s Illustrated test kitchen, too.) These are superior to the bagged Goya cannellinis I’ve cooked, and each can costs me about $2 a pop.
I always rinse canned beans well under plenty of water, removing the sludge, before preparing them with shallots, garlic, cilantro stems, salt, pepper, and plenty of fresh lemon juice. If I have cilantro, chives or sage, I’ll chop it up for a fresh garnish. This is a protein-heavy dish that’s ready in 10 minutes. I’ll layer it into lunch salads with raw, thinly sliced kale and soft-cooked eggs or tuna. I’ll fry an egg to throw over it for a quick, protein-heavy breakfast.
Even when I buy the wrong white bean, I’m still in good shape, it turns out. Today I reached for the usual can and found myself with an open can of their small white beans instead. I’m not a big fan of these in this dish, I’ve found in the past. (Apparently I go to the grocery store ravenous, throwing cans of food into my basket willy-nilly, not reading labels!)
But I have a good, high-powered blender I’ve been using for everything, so I tossed the small white beans into it with a tablespoon of cilantro stems, two cloves of garlic, a full lemon’s worth of juice, a half teaspoon of Aleppo pepper, salt and freshly ground pepper. I drizzled in olive oil slowly at the end of the blending process, making a creamy dip. And it was fantastic. Into the fridge it went, to be dished out in hangry moments with pita chips or carrots.
Here is my go-to cannellini bean recipe. Just remember to always rinse and drain beans before you use them, for a lighter, more satisfying flavor.
Sautéed Cannellini Beans with Lemon
Serves 4 as a side dish
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more
- 1 ½ shallots, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp cilantro stems, minced (Optional)
- 1 (29-ounce) can of cooked cannellini beans (such as Goya), rinsed and drained
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Juice of two lemons, to taste
- Cilantro leaves, to garnish (Optional)
- Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add shallot and cilantro, if using, and cook, stirring frequently, until shallot is light gold, 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until aromatic but not golden, 1-2 minutes.
1. Add beans. Add salt and pepper and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until flavors have mingled and beans are soft and warmed through.
2. Lower heat to low. Add lemon juice, to taste, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat. Season to taste. Serve garnished with minced cilantro leaves, if desired.
3. Can store in a tightly covered container for up to 4 days.
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.