Cannellini beans are American, seeds were sent to the king of Spain, who sent some to the Medici Pope who in turn sent them to his family in Florence. They were appreciated so much and were so rare that Alessandro de Medici gave his sister Caterina some cannellini beans as a wedding gift when she married Henry II, King of France.
Different from most of the other ingredients imported from Central and South America, cannellini became extremely popular in Italy and cooked in all sorts of way.
For a long time cannellini beans were called the meat of the poor because they rapidly became an integral part of the poor cuisine and because people and scientists soon realized that this nice looking bean was very rich in nutrients and that they can replace meat plus bread. Cannellini are slightly diuretic and posses the capacity to regulate the nervous system. Recently it was discovered that this bean helps the human body in the production of amino acid. So not only do they taste good, but they are very good for you too.
Cannellini may not be very easy to digest, especially the dried kind, which are also three times richer in calories. Dry cannellini beans especially should always be cooked slowly, for a long time, and together with herbs like rosemary, thyme, garlic and parsley.
This is the season of the new cannellini and you should profit by savoring them simply boiled with sage and garnished with salt, black pepper and some very good extra-virgin olive oil; fresh are easy to digest and much less rich in calories. Eat them with toasted bread and with a glass of full-bodied red wine.
Orecchiette with Mussels and Cannellini Beans
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound orecchiette
1 pound mussels, scrubbed
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 ounces pancetta, cubed
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch broccoli rabe, trimmed and chopped
2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1⁄2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
freshly ground pepper
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add salt and the orecchiette and cook until al dente. Meanwhile, clean the mussels under cold running water. Debeard the mussels by pulling on and removing the fibers sticking out of the side. (Not every mussel has a “beard.”)
In a skillet over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the mussels, cover and cook until they open, about 5 minutes (discard those that do not open). Remove the skillet from the heat and let cool slightly. Remove each mussel from its shell, discard the shells and set the mussels aside. In a separate skillet over medium heat, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the pancetta and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and broccoli rabe and cook for 3 minutes, or until the broccoli rabe begins to wilt. Add the cannellini beans, mussels and cherry tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and stir. Drain the pasta and add to the skillet. Toss well and serve.
Wine pairing: Generous full-bodied white
- This cannellini bean recipe and article was featured in the August 2010 issue of our e-magazine Cibo. To subscribe, please click here.