I love any type of legume but cannellini beans are my favourite. People seem to shy away from cooking dried beans from scratch, maybe because of the pre soaking they require. But the difference in taste between home cooked dried beans and the canned version aren’t comparable. Having said that I always keep a variety of canned beans in the pantry for those times when I need beans in a hurry. They’re a great time saving ingredient but cooking dried beans is so easy and the results so delicious that it’s a shame not to try and cook them every now and then. I often soak and cook more than I need and keep them in the fridge covered with their cooking water and they last for a good 4-5 days. They’re so versatile too – put them into salads, puree them to make a mash or a dip, or add them to other vegetables to make a delicious side dish as I’ve done here. I used leeks and slowly softened them in butter with garlic and then added the cooked cannellini beans with a little of their cooking liquid and cream. This was a lovely mild and creamy side dish for some pan fried John Dory fillets but it would go just as well with some roast chicken or other seafood like grilled prawns.
Ingredients – Serves 4 (or 2 with leftover beans)
2 cups dried cannellini beans
1 carrot, peeled and quartered
1 onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 leeks, trimmed washed and sliced
2 cloves of garlic extra, chopped
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
½ cup cooking liquid from the beans
¼ cup cream
Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with plenty of cold water. Cover and leave to soak over night. The next day drain the beans and place them into a large saucepan with the onion, carrot, garlic, bay leaves and olive oil. Cover with enough cold water to come 1 inch above the beans. Bring to the boil then lower the heat, cover the pan and leave to simmer for 1 hour. Test the beans at this point, they should be soft but still retaining their shape. If they are not soft continue cooking, checking every 10 minutes until they are done. How long they take to cook depends on the freshness of the dried beans. Mine were done in an hour. Turn off the heat and add 1 heaped teaspoon of salt, give the beans a gentle stir and replace the lid and let them sit for about 15 minutes. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid and discard the onions, carrots and bay leaves – the garlic may have disintegrated into the beans, which is fine.
Heat the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat and add the sliced leeks and a pinch of salt. Cook stirring for a few minutes to coat them in the butter. Lower the heat and cover the pan and let them cook for about 10 minutes. Remove the lid and add the garlic and cook for a further few minutes. The leeks should be completely wilted and soft. Add the cannellini beans (add the amount you like, there maybe some leftover which you can put back into the cooking liquid and keep refrigerated to use later), ½ cup of the cooking liquid and cook until the liquid has incorporated into the beans and leeks, but don’t let it completely dry out. Season with salt and pepper and add the cream. Give one final stir and serve.