It's a miserable day here in Atlanta and I feel the need for something comforting(which usually translates into something Italian ). I have already made pasta this week so I need something different.
I've talked about Pasta e Fagioli here
before but I haven't really talked about other ways to use beans in other traditional Italian ways. This is very similar but uses polenta instead of pasta to make a hearty dish.
Ideally, you have some home cooked beans in the freezer just waiting for this dish but if you don't you can use a 16 oz can of cannellini beans or white kidney or Great Northern or even pinto beans. Just make sure you rinse and drain them well before adding to the sauce.
This is a very easy and hearty vegetarian dish but nothing is stopping you from adding Italian sausage , but if you want to include Italian sausage. I would recommend you cook it separately, crumbled and serve on top of the finished dish as a garnish. Feel free to add some pancetta to the tomato sauce as well.
First we need a good simple tomato sauce. Yes, you can use jarred sauce but this is pretty simple and you can control how its made....
Ingredients: Tomato sauce
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil or butter (I use EVOO)
a medium yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and shredded
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 dried bay leaf
pinch of red-pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 can (28 ounces) whole or chopped San Marzano tomatoes or other plum tomatoes
2 cups of drained cooked white beans or 1 16 oz can of white beans, rinsed and drained
a third of a cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 cups water
1 tsp. salt
1 cup polenta or coarse ground yellow corn meal
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
half a cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnishing
Freshly ground pepper
In a small Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium heat, heat the oil or butter. Add the onion, the garlic, the red-pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Sauté until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the carrot and sauté for 2 to 3 more minutes. Add the tomatoes, oregano, basil and bay leaf and stir a bit to break up the tomatoes a little. Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, just barely simmering, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are reduced and beginning to separate from the oil, at least 2 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can make this sauce ahead a couple of days and just reheat it. You can also make a big batch of beans ahead and freeze what you don't use for later as well.
Making the polenta:
About 45 minutes before serving, bring the water to a boil in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the salt and, whisking continuously, slowly pour the polenta into the water. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring almost constantly until the mixture thickens and the polenta begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. This will take about 40 to 45 minutes. Stir in the butter and a half cup of Parmesan cheese, and season with freshly ground pepper. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
About 15 minutes before you are ready to serve add the beans to the tomato sauce and warm them together over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the parsley about 5 minutes before serving.
I like to serve this in a big shallow bowl. Spoon the polenta into the warmed bowls and make a well in the center of each serving with your serving spoon. Spoon the tomato-bean sauce into the well. Garnish with Parmesan cheese.
This should serve 4.
P.S. I have a bag 'o spinach that I have to use tonight so my sauce will have spinach in it as well as beans. My sauce will be left over from pasta a few nights ago and it was made with pancetta. Since I cook for two I will only make a half recipe of the polenta.