August 19, 2010

Savory White Bean "Stew"

White beans are so versatile. Perfect for every season, white beans are fresh and light when incorporated into dinner on a summer's night, and then hearty and comforting when cooked up in a warm winter dish. I always keep both dried and canned white beans on hand in the pantry to toss into soups and pastas as a filling, fiber and protein rich addition. But sometimes, as in this savory white bean stew, these beans get to be the main event.

I loved this dish because it played to both sides of the white bean's versatility: the bright spinach and fresh tomatoes felt just right for summer, yet the savory hint of applewood smoked bacon added a depth of flavor that would be just as wonderful on a cold winter's day. Perfect.

Feel free to use canned beans for a quick dinner (it would be ready in minutes), but if you're looking for the comfort of something simmering on the stove for hours, dried are your best bet. Gently mashing some of the white beans in the pot as they cook releases their starchy quality, and as the liquid cooks down the ingredients come together in a hearty, thick consistency that resembles a stew. Serve over polenta wedges, as shown above, or over hot pasta that has been tossed with sea salt and olive oil. 

Savory White Bean Stew: (serves 2)
1.5 cups dried white beans, rinsed and picked over, simmered until just soft. (Or use canned white beans)
1 slice of thick cut applewood smoked bacon
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
8 oz. fresh spinach leaves
1 t. dried basil
1 t. garlic powder
1/2 T. salt
freshly ground black pepper

Cut the slice of bacon in half lengthwise, then into 1/2 inch pieces. Brown over medium heat in a medium sized pan. Remove the bacon and drain the grease. Do not wipe out the pan. Add the tomatoes and stir for a few minutes until fragrant, then add in the white beans with their cooking liquid. Add the bacon back in and allow to simmer until it has cooked down. Mash some of the white beans to release starch and thicken the dish. Toss in the spinach, basil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve once spinach has wilted and desired consistency is reached.

*Omit the bacon to make this dish vegetarian. If you're looking to have meat as a main, this would also be wonderful as a side to a Tuscan lamb shank or cut of chicken.

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