fast white bean stew

My newest overdue obsession: Rancho Gordo. It has been over a year since I promised that I would forevermore soak my beans with glee and ebullience as I have seen the light of freshly soaked beans at last. Sadly, this didn’t last long. I found that the beans I could get at various reputable stores were terribly unreliable–they didn’t get soft, their skins flaked, their flavor lacked; in short: they were on the shelf too long. Enter Rancho Gordo, an heirloom bean grower out of Napa Valley, which I have read so much about but was cautious to buy something so particular from so far away. I’m glad I got over it because these beans are delicious. There’s no comparison. I started with the European Sampler but you’d better believe I’ll be getting some of their Mexican/Latin Sampler soon.

runner cannellini
can beans be hot?

I used my first batch of Runner Cannellini beans to make a Fast White Bean Stew I’ve had bookmarked from Gourmet Magazine for some time. The results were… good enough for a Tuesday night, if you know what I mean. I needed more zip, in my mind… some smoky spicy Spanish paprika, red pepper flakes, a glug of vinegar or wine, less broth. I haven’t gotten back to it to figure it out, but I suspect that one or several of you will come up with something brilliant. Only the show stopper beans saved it. It has ham in it, but this could be easily skipped if you’re vegetarian or rendered extra-carnivorous with sausage. I used spinach, but I think that a heavier green, if cooked longer, could work as well. In summary: use this recipe only as guidance and hit it up with your creativity.

fast white bean stew

Soaking Dried Beans

Rancho Gordo wants soaking beans to be less complicated that it is made out to be. There is no one method, they tell you–just simmer them until they are soft. Soaking them first can speed up the process, vegetables or stock can make them more flavorful, but in the end–and especially if you’re using their delicious beans–you could do neither and still have a stunning dish.

I used the cooking method outlined on their site, but to summarize:

If you can, presoak the beans for a few hours, overnight or up to a day. Put the beans and their soaking water to a large pot–there is no reason to discard the soaking water. Bring the pot to a full boil for five minutes, before reducing the heat as low as you can possibly go so that bubbles will still appear. Depending on the size of your bean and the amount of time you have soaked them, they should be ready in between two or three hours.

Fast White Bean Stew
Adapted from Gourmet, January 2007

As I mentioned above, this stew is completely edible but a wee lackluster. Do consider kicking it up, as they say, with spices and extra ingredients.

2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 (14- to 15-oz) can stewed tomatoes
1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 (19-oz) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (3 cups)
1 (1/2-lb) piece baked ham (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (5-oz) bag baby romaine (er, what? I used spinach) or baby arugula (10 cups loosely packed)
8 (3/4-inch-thick) slices baguette

Cook garlic in 1/4 cup oil in a 3 1/2- to 4 1/2-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat, stirring, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Coarsely cut up tomatoes in can with kitchen shears, then add (with juice) to garlic in oil. Stir in broth, beans, ham, and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Stir in greens and cook until wilted, 3 minutes for romaine or 1 minute for arugula.

While stew is simmering, preheat broiler. Put bread on a baking sheet and drizzle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil. Broil 3 to 4 inches from heat until golden, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.

Serve stew with toasts.

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93 comments on fast white bean stew

  1. Leighann

    Perhaps a small tutorial on the differences between matte, gloss, and lustre would help me decide which finish to choose?

    ( I already have the four I want picked out.)


  2. Colleen

    I make something similar based on a recipe I tried to replicate from one of my favorite gastropubs, but I use chorizo and kale. The chorizo helps flavor it without having to add too much more in the way of spice, and the kale (if wilted over the garlic and onions before adding the tomato et al) softens up nicely but still has some nice firmness to it.

    I love all manner of beany stews, though, so I think I might give this ham and spinach one a go too!

  3. I am so relieved to find that you have had the same problems with commercially available dried beans – I thought it was just me! I grew up in a family where we soaked beans about 99% of the time; we rarely used canned beans. And they would get soft and delicious when cooked. If they didn’t they were old. Now, it’s hit or miss, and I thought I was doing something wrong. I’m going to be trying these beans!

  4. Rebecca

    I made this soup for my very skeptical, soup hating husband a while ago and he just loved it. I used spinach, just like you did, but put in much more garlic than called for. The toasts were a huge hit.

    Thanks for your blog. I love reading it and enjoy making the recipes you suggest!

  5. Hi – I love your blog and am dying to track down some good looking rhubarb to make that coffee cake you made the other day. Thanks for this bean recipe. I actually just ordered lots of beans from Rancho Gordo last week and have been feeling a little bit less inspired to cook them than I was to order them in the first place and you have definitely spiked my interested in them. I think I might just try to make the “marrow” ones tomorrow evening!

  6. LyB

    I am so joining that Flickr group! I just hope I can post photos I’ve taken a while back, I have a few :) Your bean stew looks absolutely delicious!

  7. why is it so often that soups are lacking in flavor? so frustrating. this looks really delicious though — quite a tuesday night! i think some chopped fennel would be a great addition for a little something different, too!

  8. anon

    i make this all the time: one of my weeknight staples. i put parmesan on the toasts, use arugula (though i have done it w/ spinach too), add extra garlic and use fire-roated tomatoes. i’ll have to try sherry vinegar!

  9. And Johanna: I can’t find rhubarb either! I don’t think it’s really grown in Florida, but apparently they don’t import it, either. I’m thinking of making the coffee cake with fresh strawberries instead…

  10. (sorry to hijack the comments) but Kate – I just found rhubarb at Publix within the past week and it was definitely there all last spring. Keep an eye out – they usually pre-cut it and package it the way they do with most vegetables.

  11. deb

    Hi, everyone. Alex here…

    For anyone who has questions on matte vs. glossy vs. lustre:

    This page has a pretty good summary of matte vs. glossy.

    Lustre is kind of in the middle, between matte and glossy. According to Smugmug, lustre has the fingerprint resistance of matte and the color saturation of glossy, without the glare often associated with glossy.

  12. Lisa

    wow, i didnt know i had a secret! I’ve been a Rancho Gordo fan forever. Another gem from this area I dont appreciate enough until i see it thru someone elses eyes.

  13. I loved seeing the little search widget on your site. It´s such a great tool, really, those girls deserve all the praise.
    And the design on the beans? To die for. We´ve got amazing beans here, but they´re very boring to look at.

  14. I never knew that beans could be on the shelf too long — I think that’s the problem with my crunchy lentils (yuck). I mean, can a pot of lentils really simmer for 4 hours and not be done? Twice in a row? Or are there brands of lentils that are just crunchy, even when fully cooked? Turns my stomach, but maybe there are those who like crunchy beans. If so, they should come to my house. I have a knack for crunchy beans.

  15. I drank the Kool-Aid on the RG beans too. And they are the best beans that I have ever eaten. Who knows how long those bean in the mega-mart have been sitting on the shelf?

    I had RG’s hominy as well and it too was delicious in posole,

  16. All very cool things indeed. The food blog search is going to be added soon — something has been in the works for awhile on my end — and by awhile i mean almost 9 months (no, not a baby) :) but my designer has been stalling and less-than-responsive, so i am trying to figure stuff out on my end… and once i do, the food blog search is going to be added.

  17. jael

    Funny — I just made something like this last night, and with Rancho Gordo beans! I soaked some Christmas Limas overnight on Saturday and cooked them up with basic seasoning (mirepoix, allspice, peppercorns, bay). Then last night, I combined them with more onion and garlic, chopped braised scallions (All About Braising recipe), smoked paprika, aleppo pepper, lots of sage, and sriracha.

    I kept adding more and more spices and not getting much new flavor, so I did two things: at the end of cooking, I added a paste of one raw garlic clove mashed with salt, and a hit of awesome vinegar. That plus the sriracha really jacked up the flavor.

  18. Liz

    I make something very similar to this on a regular basis, but I rarely add meat (when I do, it’s sliced chicken sausage). Either up the garlic to three cloves or switch it out for chopped shallots. Red pepper flakes are a must. Throw in a little white wine, arugula, and if you’ve got it, top the finished product off with chopped basil. I second the addition to the parm on the toasts too. I’ve actually taken this “stew” and mashed it up to serve as a pasta sauce over whole wheat spaghetti. It may sound odd, but it’s great!

  19. that looks delicious. i think i would definitely have to sausage it up, though. maybe this stew can be a home for the leftover andouille links i have in the freezer.

    heading to check out the store right now. very cool.

  20. Kim

    FWIW, soups go better for me if I pan roast or saute’ the vegetables first (not the spinach, of course)t. They preserve their texture & color better, and taste better. Might try that if you think your soups aren’t flavorful enough.

  21. Yvo

    Ooh, I’ve made a few of your recipes… unfortunately I don’t really post on Flickr (tho I have an account). Hmm, what to do, what to do… *taps chin*

  22. anonymous

    I’ve made this recipe several times and we enjoy as a quick weeknight meal. I’ve substituted things for the ham, but for us the smoky flavor it imparts really brings the stew together and is the best choice. I also find it absolutely imperative to use fire-roasted tomatoes. And I agree about the romaine (what?) and have tried both spinach and arugula. Although we love spinach and I use it in many soups and stews, for this one the arugula is preferred by us. It’s got a little kick to it that pairs well with the beans, ham, and fire-roasted tomatoes. We also add a lot more black pepper than specified.

  23. I am working my way through the Latin sampler from RG. The Vaquero were particularly good in tacos, with cilantro and queso fresco!

    I make my beans in the crock pot — they’re basically fool proof that way, and ready for dinner when I come home!

  24. Just wanted to say I checked out your photo store and it looks terrific! The photos are gorgeous, I can definitely imagine them displayed anywhere from gourmet food shops to cafes, wine bars and home kitchens.

    Much success with the new venture!

  25. I’m a big fan of Rancho Gordo beans too. They have so much flavor compared to regular supermarket beans.

    Thanks for helping publicize the food blog search. I love it and use it every time I write a post, and credit goes to Elise who came up with the idea and has done most of the work. I try to help add blogs when I can, but nearly always Elise has already found the blog first! So hooray to Elise for creating something that can help all of us so much.

  26. Amber

    I make a Spanish version of this stew, which I’ve always used chickpeas for, but I bet white beans would be good, too. Onion, lots of garlic, pimenton, bay leaf, cubed chorizo and serrano ham, beans or chickpeas, white wine, spinach, and I use good quality tomato paste mixed with water, rather than canned tomatoes, which I think gives it an intense flavor. So delicious!

  27. deb

    Joc — I have almost no photos of dinner! Perhaps I can get Ximena to envision our short rib symphony for us. Or I can use Microsoft Paint! Wait, I don’t have it on my Mac? Soooob…

  28. Dancer who eats

    YUM. YUM. YUM.

    I am an amateur at substitutions because I am usually to scared to attempt it but what about kale? I love kale and it goes great in soups and pasta. What do you think? Any good? You know I would be too scared to try. Let me know.

  29. Ed

    You mention in this recipe the ability to use the water you soaked the beans in. I never use that water, noting that if looks like there’s “stuff” (starch?) in it. Do you always reuse the water?

  30. I’m so glad to see that you are finally selling your beautiful shots! Of course the recipes and commentary on SK are great, but for me it’s those glorious food photos that I look forward to every week.

    I just started uploading some of my shots to Shutterstock – it’s a stock photography library. Its just another way to collect a little income from the photos and (best of all) you don’t need to give them exclusive rights. Anyhow, just thought I’d pass along the idea [Scott {me} and ScottsFoodBlog have no affiliation with the aforementioned site {Shutterstock} or its affiliates. Offer not valid in Wyoming]

  31. Mariann

    For Kate Regarding the rhubarb crumb cake: Rhubarb is a spring perennial vegetable that will not grow without a period of cold winter (Florida cold does not count). I am not sure where any fresh rhubarb in store this time of year may come from but you can find it frozen. Part of the glory of spring is waiting for the experience of eating things as they come in season. Try it with other fruits.

  32. wow, is that the sexiest package of beans you’ve ever seen or what?

    also, i too have fallen in love with the food blog search, and knowing who gave birth to the idea just makes me like it even more.

  33. deb

    Ed — The Rancho Gordo folks say there is no harm using the soaking water. I did it this time, and well, I am still standing! (Er, sitting.) However, if it squicks you out, there is also no harm in using a fresh batch of water. From their site:

    “You have been told before to change the water and rinse the beans. The thinking now is that vitamins and flavor can leech out of the beans into the soaking water you are throwing down the sink. There is no scientific evidence that changing the water cuts down on the gas.”

    Everyone — Thanks for the awesome response on everything. The Flickr pool has 106 photos already, and it totally makes me smile every time I see everyones hard work!

  34. I am so glad to see this – I have three bags of white Rancho Gordo sitting in my cabinet right now and was pondering what to do with them! The recipe does seem like it could use some punching up – but it sure looks pretty!

  35. Congrats on the photo site! They’re all beautiful…I can’t wait to grab a few (and to make this stew, and to credit you and…ok, I’ll stop rhyming now).

    Also happy to see the new Flickr group! YAY!

  36. I’m going nuts over your store! I’ve never pulled a tantrum in a toy shop as a child. This is the first time I’ve felt the impulse to squat on the floor, and yell I want! I want! I want!.

  37. Rancho Gordo beans are among my favorite brands. Purcell Mountain is also very, very good. I make this bean soup, except I use chopped fennel and lean canadian bacon. To finish the soup, I puree about two cups of the soup and add it back to make a creamy soup.

  38. Ahhh, comfort food at it’s finest! My hubby has never understood why I swoon over a pot of beans, add spinach and settle in with large bowl, large spoon and a good cookbook. If time allows I use a ham hock in place of the ham, I’ve also used canadian bacon if it’s all I have available. I like to spice it up with a sprinkle or two of red pepper flakes, also onions. I’m anxious to try your version if I can find decent beans. I almost licked the screen when I saw your photo and inhaled deeply hoping to catch a whiff of the ham in the bean stew (sigh, no such luck.) I absolutely adore your blog, I’m addicted!

  39. YAY! Rancho gordo is my latest obsession. The marrow beans are particularly good in the Spicy Goan Curry you posted last summah! I make the chili from domino magazine (except less oregano, blah, and I roast fresh chilis instead of the can.) I use the same combo for pot beans with fistfuls of basil. Can’t get enough of’em!

  40. christine

    Like many others, I switched to fire-roasted tomatoes, jacked up the garlic, and nearly doubled the pepper. But, I also added 2 T of good balsamic vinegar and (the thing which made the most difference, I think) chopped up about 6 kalamata olives and threw those in. I think it really gave it the depth it was missing. That said, I just heated the leftovers from last night, and it’s twice as good today. Almost worth planning ahead to make the day before you need it! Thanks so much for this recipe–I always look forward to seeing what new little delights you’ve featured.

  41. I’ve made this before but I used canned supermarket beans. After reading this post I went and spent over $50 on Rancho Gordo beans. They arrived yesterday and I have them stacked on my counter in a gorgeous display of color. Tonight I will bust out my new cannellini beans and make this stew again. I can’t wait!

  42. Charlotte

    I make a stew like this, but the main thing that I think makes it what it is is adding a couple of bay leaves with the garlic as it is cooking and then chucking in an onion stuck with a few cloves. Bay leaves!

  43. JUDIE

    Can’t wait to try this recipe. I just found Rancho Gordo a few months ago & have already had 3 shipments! They are positively addictive. I used to get similar beans when I lived in the city from Dean& DeLuca. Comparing RG’s beans to regular store ones is like comparing Mueller’s spaghetti to fresh made! Be sure to go to Steve’s blog from RG-it’s great, as is his video on how to cook beans. Am awaiting my 1st order of dried corn. Don’t ask what I’m going to do with it-don’t know yet. One thing I’m sure of though, is if RG says it’s good-it is! My favorite bean is the yellow- eye, reminds me of when I was a kid & would come home from school to a bowl of homemade bean soup.

  44. Jen

    So, I made this stew over the weekend and it was fantastic. I’m vegetarian, so I substituted vegetable stock for the chicken broth, upped the garlic and the peppers, and added a packet (about 12 oz.) of vegetarian chorizo sausage (usually available in the veggie food section.) I also added a good glug of balsamic vinegar, and due to my laziness, used pre-toasted toasts from a cheese and bread store for croutons, rather than making my own. It was AMAZING and even better the next day. Definite kick from the sausage, but the beans really softened it a bit and it was just yummy. I served it at a party and everyone raved!

  45. slong

    Just made this. It was awesome. I used CANNED white northern beans AND butter beans (2 12oz cans), doubled the garlic, and used roasted diced tomatoes. I threw in leftover chicken (kabobs) and let the whole thing simmer for about an hour. My partner is going bonkers over it! Thanks for the great recipe, and the inspiration to mess around with it!

  46. brooklynite

    Just made this and it was awesome with: 2 glugs of white wine after adding tomatoes, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and lots of red pepper flakes. It had a sweet spicy roundness that was awesome with some peasant bread toasted with some paremsean reggiano. Perfect way to use the leftover ham.

  47. cs

    I used this recipe as a base line and incorporated many suggestions. Starting with Rancho Gordo beans how can one go wrong? I did use pancetta rather than ham, added shallots, incorporated fire roasted tomatoes, a glug of white wine, smoked paprika, and lots of red pepper flakes. I used spinach but may try romaine, escarole or arugula next time. Very yummy!

  48. Brenda

    One thing I’ve discovered with good beans–use the bean liquor (the liquid left after your beans are cooked) as the liquid in your soup,especially if you cooked them with a mirepoix; otherwise you’re throwing a lot of great flavor down the drain. Bet some fresh lemon juice added near the end of cooking would perk it up , or maybe boiled cider.

  49. Kris

    I just made this thanks to it popping up on the ‘one year ago’ feature. As you suggested, I gave it a little help in the spice department and it turned out great. I added half a white onion I had lying around and doubled the garlic, then reduced a bit of white wine in the onion/garlic mix before adding the tomatoes. I also added some Spanish paprika, ground cayenne and thyme. Very, very yummy and hearty.

    And I second Brenda’s bean liquor comment! It thickens the soup/stew up nicely, too.

  50. Monica

    Just found your blog and I love it.
    I did just what Brooklynite did, and I added four chopped anchovies to the onion garlic mixture. They add unbelievable flavor, and no one would guess they were in the end result.
    I also use a pressure cooker, and bean cooking is a dream. Thirty minutes from start to finish. I add water, whole onion, garlic, bay leaves and the end of prosciutto to the raw beans. After the beans cook, I separate them from the broth to stop the cooking process. If I’m making a soup, I keep them everything together,removing the prosciutto and bay, and add previously sauteed vegetables to the pot.

  51. Sonya

    This soup is ridiculously good. I don’t know if it was the dainty portions you pictured being eaten that used reverse psychology on me, but um.. I ate almost the entire pot of soup. In one day. By myself. I was planning on having this be a two, three day thing? I burnt myself eating it, I disregarded any rational notions about how much soup a person could eat, and now I have eaten it once it’s gone cold, hours later. It’s happened before with your recipes, Deb – the no-knead bread? All gone. Even if I pick healthy recipes I eat so much of what I made it doesn’t even matter. I may not comment, ever, but your blog has helped me feed myself for two years now.

    It was my first time using fire roasted tomatoes, and chorizo sausage. I used kale also, and the parmesan bread slices were perfection. No home can be unhappy with such soups in it. I wish they would advertise this type of food in public instead of McDonalds or Slurpees… sigh… here’s to a brighter future.

  52. DJ

    I think wild garlic ( ramsons) in Germany it is called Bärlauch would be a lovely addition instead of the other greens and gives a garlic flavour without the fireeating breath.Pepperoncino flakes would give it the fire…..your recipe sounds lovely and I am looking froward to trying the butter scotch icecream….

  53. Carolyna

    Hey Deb, here in Greece our white bean stew (fasolada) is traditionally made with thinly chopped carrots, and its signature taste is given by chopped celery stalk and a few celery greens (here we get a different kind of celery which kind of looks like really big parsley – its stalks are way thinner and the leaves have a really potent flavour). You use normal celery stalks but the leaves of the mutant parsley/celery hybrid ;)

    Keep well, keep cooking up a storm. You make me smile.

    kiss kiss

  54. Morgan

    Made this last night with the spinach salad & warm bacon vinegarette. It was delicious! I sauteed sausage (in lieu of the ham, I thought it would impart more flavor) with the garlic, used a can of white beans & a can of pinto & added some red pepper flakes. I used less spinach than called for, and I think it left more broth so it was more of a soup, less of a stew, but it was delicous! Thanks for the recipe!

  55. Crystal

    Last night I was looking for a way to use up the rest of our Honeybaked Ham from Christmas, and found this recipe. It looked easy and quick, perfect following a week of a lot of cooking and too many dishes! I used 32 oz of vegetable broth to make it more of a soup and added a little sauteed onion. Delicious! Thanks for a great recipe, I plan on using it many more times. Happy new year!

  56. Bahb

    Many thanks for this recipe because for the first time in my 58 years of cooking, I didn’t have to trash the cooked beans. Rancho Gordo beans may have been the trick. I used their Yellow Eye beans and a couple of ham hocks, a Bay leaf and lots of black peppercorns. Sooooo creamy and delicious! I smear them on a corn tortilla, top with some fresh salsa, fold it, wrap it in a wet paper towel and nuke it for 45 seconds…….Quickie no-fuss, no-mess dinner. Cold or hot, those beans are dream-worthy.

  57. Jessie

    Hi deb! No idea if you check old posts, but I have found that making beans in the oven is the easiest for me… I do like to soak first, but them I bring the beans to a boil for 5ish minutes on the stove in a Dutch oven, then put in the oven, covered, at 325 for 75-90 minutes. I’ve found it makes for a much better, evenly cooked batch. And I love rancho gordo… Have a shipment arriving this week!

  58. Angela Gifford

    Just a comment to say that beans are high in lectins and some people are sensitive to them. If so, rinsing the soaking water of the beans multiple times will be helpful. Rancho Gordo is the BEST!

  59. Elizabeth D

    Everyone’s talking about the health and environmental benefits of substituting beans for some or all of the meat in recipes, and that’s pushing me to finally try many of these bean recipes I already had earmarked! Made this one last night using canned white beans, baby spinach, and three hot Italian turkey sausage links instead of the ham. It was easy, fast, and pretty inexpensive – and really tasty! I removed the sausages from the casings and browned them, then cleared a space and added the garlic (a little extra garlic because we love garlic), and then followed the recipe from there. It came together so quickly and really had a lot of flavor from the sausage and garlic. The sausage also added nice texture. Yum!

  60. Erica

    This was the perfect dish to use up the rest of our Christmas ham! Maybe the *zing* needed to liven the stew up is to substitute ham stock for the chicken stock, which is what I did (LOVE bone in ham!). Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

  61. Kim K Roberts

    Believe it or not, I found the missing ingredient: miso paste. I dropped the tomatoes, and also added some dash, and then a splash of rice vinegar. It was a hit with the family!

  62. EastWestGirl

    A glug of vinegar did the trick! I assume, dear readers, that you already know this but Do NOT add vinegar to the entire pot unless you plan on eating the soup in one sitting because vinegar toughens beans!