Bean recipes: Soups, mains and side dishes

Tomato, fennel and beans. Picture: Paul Dodds
Tomato, fennel and beans. Picture: Paul Dodds
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BEANS come in many shapes, sizes and colours, and they are a very nutritionally valuable part of our diet. I love two types of dried bean in particular – butterbeans and cannellini.

Both are so useful, delicious, and are good with all vegetables, meat and fish. Cannellini beans are an important part of that most satisfying of soups, minestrone, for which any collection of vegetables can be used.

Either butter or cannellini beans can also serve as a delicious starch accompaniment instead of potatoes, or rice or pasta. And they can be used as a thickener – tastier than flour, and also useful for those who are unfortunate enough to be allergic to gluten.

For example, a drained can or jar of cannellini or butterbeans can be pulverised and stirred into stock or milk and cooked to form a good flour-free sauce, to be flavoured with cheese, mustard, herbs or lemon.

Tomato, fennel and beans

Serves 6

This side dish combining starch with three types of vegetable is an ideal accompaniment for plain, grilled or baked chicken, meat or fish.

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, skinned, halved and finely sliced

3 bulbs of fennel, trimmed at either end, halved and sliced finely

1lb/450g cherry tomatoes, each halved and with the seeds squeezed away (they make for a bitter taste if left in)

2 sprigs of thyme

1 teaspoon salt, about 20 grinds black pepper, ½ teaspoon dried chilli (optional)

1lb/450g butter or cannellini beans, from jars or tins, drained and rinsed in a sieve with cold water

Heat the olive oil in a wide-based saucepan – ideally a sauté pan – and fry the finely sliced onions for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions should be soft and completely transparent. Scoop them into a bowl and add the sliced fennel to the sauté pan. Add another tablespoon of olive oil if you think it is needed. Cook the fennel, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Then replace the onions in the pan and add the de-seeded, halved cherry tomatoes, the sprigs of thyme, salt, black pepper and chilli (if you are including it). Add the rinsed beans and stir all well together. Cover the pan with its lid and cook on a low to moderate heat, with the contents of the pan just simmering, for 10-15 minutes. Remove the sprigs of thyme as you serve.

Beans and bacon

Serves 6

There does seem to be an affinity between beans and tomatoes, and also beans with bacon or ham. This combines both, and makes a quick and delicious supper, but buy dry-cured British (better still, Scottish) bacon.

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, each skinned, halved and diced neatly

2 fat cloves of garlic, skinned and sliced finely

2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes

2 jars or tins of beans, giving 450g total weight when drained and rinsed under cold water in a sieve

1 teaspoon salt, about 15 grinds black pepper

18 rashers streaky bacon grilled until crisp

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan and fry the diced onions, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Then add the sliced garlic, cook for a minute before adding the contents of the tins of chopped tomatoes and the rinsed butter or cannellini beans to the pan. Stir in the salt and black pepper and let this mixture simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Serve with three crisp bacon rashers on each serving.

Curried beans

Serves 6

This is a meal in itself.

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 onions, each skinned, halved and sliced finely

1 fat clove of garlic, skinned and sliced

2 cooking apples, quartered, cored, peeled and chopped (cookers fall to a soft mush on cooking, which is exactly what is required for this dish. And they have an excellent flavour, too)

2 fairly level teaspoons medium strength curry powder

1 teaspoon salt, 15 grinds black pepper

finely grated rind of 1 lemon

2oz/55g raisins or sultanas

1lb/450g drained and rinsed butter or cannellini beans

1 pint/570ml stock (use a good stock substitute such as Marigold or Kallo cubes, made up with boiling water)

Heat the olive oil in a wide pan and fry the diced onions, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes. The onions should turn golden brown in colour. Then add the sliced garlic and chopped cooking apples. Stir in the curry powder, salt and black pepper, and cook for a couple of minutes before stirring in the finely grated lemon rind, the raisins (or sultanas), the beans and the stock. Cover the pan with its lid and simmer the contents gently for 15-20 minutes.

This is delicious eaten alone, but it is also very good with pork or ham.