Friday, January 20, 2012

White Bean and Tomato Stew

These last few days, we’ve had a not-so friendly reminder that Winter is still the boss of January. The wind and the snow are throwing their weight around. The sun dares to shine pretty regularly, but only in protest. One almost feels inclined to complain.

What I’m trying to say is that it got really cold here. Like below the 0 degrees Fahrenheit line with unspeakable wind chills. Time to raid the pantry and make something hot and comforting. I went with white beans flavored with carrots, celery and bay leaf, then re-simmered with canned (of course…it’s January) tomatoes and a little sprig of rosemary.

This dish is based on a recipe I clipped from a Martha Stewart Living magazine so long ago that I don’t have any idea of its publication date. In the original, the beans were cooked with large chunks of carrots, celery and onion which were removed after the beans were cooked. I gave myself a bit more chopping and left the vegetables in for the final stage of simmering with tomatoes. I also went with diced tomatoes to save myself the step (and the dish-washing) of chopping whole tomatoes in the food processor as was suggested in the original recipe.

I wish I would have cooked the beans a little longer, since they do not really get softer in the presence of the acidic tomatoes, but otherwise this was a delightfully flavorful and comforting dish. It’s hot and hearty and savory and the little hint of rosemary flavor gained by cooking the beans and tomatoes with a whole sprig that is removed before serving is just right. Rosemary can be rather assertive, but if you like it, you could probably put in more.

I served this stew over polenta. I’m woefully inexperienced with polenta, so don’t have much advice or even a recipe to recommend. You should be able find one pretty easily in cookbooks or with the Google machine in front of you. I will say that the recipe I did use (or rather modified) simply called for “stone-ground cornmeal” which I happened to have, rather than insisting on something labeled “polenta,” which I didn’t. It seemed to work just fine and tasted like a cornbread pudding. Even more comfort for a cold, cold day, or rather series of days. While the cold kept coming, this recipe made plenty of leftovers.

White Bean Stew with Tomatoes and Rosemary
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living magazine

1 pound small dried white beans, such as Navy or Great Northern
1 medium onion, finely chopped, divided
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium celery stalk, diced
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt, plus more to taste
2 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (about 4-5 inch) sprig fresh rosemary
½ cup water
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes (I used fire-roasted)

1. Rinse the beans and remove any stones, dirt or broken beans. Place the beans in a large pot or bowl. Cover with water by several inches. Cover and soak overnight (or at least 8 hours).

2. Drain the beans. Place the beans in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add half of the onion, the carrot, celery and bay leaf. Cover with water by at least 4 inches. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and boil gently until the beans are tender, but not yet falling apart, about 1 hour.

3. Drain the beans and vegetables. Discard the bay leaf. Rinse and dry the cooking pot.

4. Pour the olive oil in the pot and heat over medium heat. Add the remaining onion and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook and stir until the onion is tender but not browned, about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook and stir about 30 seconds more.

5. Add the cooked bean mixture, rosemary, water and tomatoes (do not drain the tomatoes, but add the entire contents of the can). Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until the tomato sauce has thickened slightly. Remove and discard the rosemary sprig. Taste for salt and stir in more if desired.

Makes 8 or more servings. This is good served over polenta.

Other recipes like this one: White Bean Soup with Bacon, Squash and Kale; White Bean Soup with Fresh Herbs

One year ago: Garlic-Salt Paste (Technique)

Two years ago: Spaghetti Squash Salad with Greek Flavors


  1. I made this stew last night and we loved it. I was too lazy to go to the market for Navy beans. We have several bags of dry Pinto beans and I used those instead. In addition to the stew, I made some cornbread in my cast iron skillet. The stew over the cornbread was delicious. I do want to try the recipe with Navy beans/white beans to see what the difference is. This is a keeper for my family. Big thumbs up!

    1. Cornbread sounds like a great idea...and I love it baked in a cast iron skillet!