Once you learn the basics of cooking beans, these creamy, soul-satisfying cannellinis are so simple to prepare.
Slow-simmered vegetables – onion, fennel, carrot and celery – infuse the beans with mild sweetness, and adding a smoked ham hock to the pot brings smoky richness to each bean. The mellow spice of garlic, thyme and bay leaves keeps things interesting. By simply soaking the beans before cooking them, we ensure an even absorption of the cooking liquid, making sure the texture is just right.
- Liquid assets. Seems like a lot of broth? Generally speaking, your cooking liquid should be 2 or 3 times the volume of your beans in order to cook them fully. Be sure to keep them at a low simmer – boiling the beans will makes them fall apart.
- Textural perfection. Once the beans are cooked to the right texture, we strain them and save the cooking liquid separately. This stops the beans from absorbing excess moisture and getting mushy. You can store the leftovers in the fridge this way and add the cooking liquid as needed when you reheat them.
- Secret ingredient. Next time you finish grating some Parmesan, save the rind and add it to a simmering pot of beans. The rinds add depth of flavor.
This tool is one we find especially helpful when making this dish.
- Stockpot. The large, heavy pot that you usually use for preparing stock or soup is the right size for simmering a pound of beans.
The list below includes all the equipment you’ll want to make this dish.
- Large bowl
- Large stockpot or slow-cooker
- Wooden spoon
- Cutting board and knife
- Large baking sheet
- 1 pound dried cannellini beans, (may substitute another dried white bean)
- 1 onion, quartered
- 2 fennel bulbs, cores removed, cut into quarters
- 1 carrot, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 celery stalks, cut into-2 inch chunks
- 1 pound smoked ham hock or shank
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 8 cloves garlic, sliced finely
- 10-12 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- Large sprig thyme
- 1 bay leaf
Total Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, plus soaking time (overnight or at least 1 1/2 hours)
Active Time: 40 minutes
- Pick through the dried beans to make sure that there are no small pebbles. Soak the beans using the hot soak or cold soak method: For the hot soak: Add beans to a large pot. Cover with water by 3 inches. Bring beans up to a boil, turn off heat, cover with a lid and let sit for one hour. For the cold soak: Place beans in large bowl and cover with water by 3 inches, let beans sit in water overnight (can be in stored in fridge or left on counter). Note: If you are using a slow-cooker, soaking beans is optional.
- Heat a large, empty stockpot over medium-high heat. If using a slow-cooker, the following steps should be done in a sauce pan and then transfer ham hock and sweated vegetable mixture to the slow-cooker. Add olive oil. When oil starts to shimmer, add onion, celery, carrot, fennel, bay leaf and thyme and sweat until the vegetables soften and become translucent, about 8 minutes. Add salt, garlic, ham hock, stir and continue to sweat an additional 2 minutes.
- Add chicken stock to stockpot and bring to a boil. If you are using a slow-cooker, add chicken stock to crockpot. You do not need to bring to a boil. Strain the soaked beans from the soaking water and add them to the stockpot or slow-cooker. Cover with more stock if necessary to bring the level of stock up to 1 ½ inches above the beans. Bring the pot back up to a rolling boil, lower heat to medium and simmer gently for 1 ½ hours or until beans are soft. If you are using a slow-cooker, set it to low and have the beans cook for 4-8 hours. At the 4 hour mark, test beans to check doneness. The beans should gently move around the surface of the pot. Skim any foam off the surface of the liquid as the beans cook.
- Turn off heat and remove the ham hock. Let beans cool. Once cool, strain liquid, reserving for later use. Pour strained vegetables and beans on a large baking sheet. Remove vegetables, thyme leaf and bay leaf from the beans. You can use the vegetables for a separate use. Note: If you’re preparing these beans as part of the Smoked Cod and Braised Escarole meal, you may have a fair amount of leftovers. Store the broth and the beans separately in the fridge (so the beans don’t get mushy) and stir together to make bean soup throughout the week. It’s great with a little pistachio pesto swirled in. The white beans can also be frozen for future use.
Braised white beans & herb-garnished pork belly
Up the ante on a classic beans-and-pork combo. Brown some diced pork belly and add greens to wilt. Garnish with lemon segments and parsely and serve with the white beans.