Even the most thinly stocked of pantries probably has a can of tomatoes and a can of beans hiding in the back somewhere. I’ve taken these two humble ingredients and turned them into this Comfy and Cozy Italian Tomatoes and White Beans “sauce” that’s perfectly served with toasted sourdough bread for an easy side or appetizer, or tossed with orecchiette pasta for a hearty, protein-packed plant-based dinner.
Sometimes I get these very specific, yet very vague cravings for very simple ingredients. This time around, out of nowhere, I got this strange hankering for beans and tomatoes. That’s it: beans and tomatoes. I’m not sure what set it off exactly, or where it came from, but out of nowhere, I was like, “I need to cook beans with tomatoes!”.
So I did.
I have recently become obsessed with slow cooking beans (from dry) in my Instant Pot. For white beans, like I used in this recipe, I just throw the dry beans into the pot with 4 to 5 times the amount of water, along with a small piece of kombu, and let them cook on low for about 2 ½ to 3 hours. I check them every so often because some days beans just seem to cook faster than others. When they’re done to my liking, I store them in their cooking liquid until I’m ready to use them. They’ll last for about 5 days in the fridge, but if I know I won’t be able to eat them all in that amount of time, I’ll just throw them in the freeze until I’m ready to use them.
The craving for “beans and tomatoes” lingered for a few of days before I actually did anything about it. By that time I had thought a lot about exactly what I wanted to do with them, and I knew exactly what type of beans and tomatoes I wanted to use.
Another recent obsession of mine is PBS cooking shows. I grew up on them, but after “cutting the cable” quite a few years ago, I haven’t really had access to live TV. Ben’s parents gifted us a digital TV antenna a couple of months ago, so I’ve been binge watching the Create network and Dabl.
One show that seems to be in heavy rotation lately is Ciao Italia with Mary Ann Esposito. She’s always cooking regional Italian food in her home kitchen, and on a recent episode (that was for sure filmed over a decade ago) she gave a full lecture on why you should only purchase “authentic” San Marzano tomatoes. I had never thought twice about what type of canned tomatoes I purchased, but after hearing her rhapsodize on the beauty of these Italian plum tomatoes, I decided to pick up a few cans.
I wanted my dish to be super simple: really good ingredients prepared in a way that would bring out their best features. Thinking like an Italian, I wanted to use only “real” foods; shying away from using any store-bought vegan cheeses. It’s not that I don’t enjoy some good Violife vegan Parm, but it’s really not the same as the “real” thing, and for this simple dish, in which no ingredient could hide, it was better to go without.
That’s when I opted for miso. Obviously using miso contradicts everything I just said about authenticity, and “thinking like an Italian”, but I really wanted to add something to the sauce that would add a umami depth of flavor without adding a processed vegan cheese.
Miso is fermented and salty and full of umami in the same way that Parmesan cheese is. I knew that if I started the dish off with it, sauteing it in olive oil with the tomato paste, that I could enhance the flavor by toasting it, and then the dish would have an unidentifiable, but rich depth beyond what tomatoes would provide on their own.
The craving was at it’s peek, and I had teased myself for long enough. I had all the ingredients ready to go, and a plan of attack. There was only one more thing to figure out: How was I going to serve this dish?
Honestly, from the start, I pictured just eating my beans and tomatoes in a bowl with some incredibly crunchy and charred sourdough bread, somewhere between a bruschetta and a dip. That vision was probably sparked by the fact that I was also currently in a love affair with the fresh baked sourdough boules I had been buying pretty much weekly from Whole Foods.
Serving it with some nice crusty bread makes for a great snack or appetizer, or dinner-for-one, but if you want to make this into more of an entree, then definitely opt for the pasta route.
Orecchiette, which means “little ears” in Italian, is the perfect pasta for this sauce. The rich tomato sauce clings to the grooves on the outside of the pasta, and the beans seem to find their way into the little cups like pears in an oyster. Small shells would also work great for this dish if orecchiette aren’t readily available where you are.
I don’t mean to get too Ina Garten on y’all but I really do think this is a recipe that benefits from using “good” ingredients. If you can, cook the beans from dry. It’s definitely more work than opening a can, but (and nothing against canned beans) there is a tremendous difference between what you can buy and what you can make, and since there is nowhere for things to hide in this dish, you want to make sure to use the best that you can.
That also goes for the tomatoes. I have a few different types of canned tomatoes on hand at any given time, and for the most part, I can’t really tell the difference between them. A canned tomato is a canned tomato. However, after buying into Mary Ann Esposito’s hype about the San Marzano tomato, and trying them out for myself, I have to say that there is something extra rich and sweet about these tomatoes that sets them apart, and makes this simple dish even more profound.
Fresh basil is also very important to the final dish, and dried herbs just don’t give you the same freshness. Since the miso and tomatoes create such a rich and deep flavor, it’s nice to have something fresh to brighten it up. If you can’t find basil, or don’t like it, throw in some fresh parsley just to give the dish the green that it needs.
Olive oil is not simply a cooking medium in this recipe. It’s a major contributor to texture and the flavor profile. If you are avoiding oil, you’ll still end up with a lovely, simple dish. However, if you’re going to go for it, then definitely use a great fruity or peppery olive oil to drizzle on the top just before serving.
Home-cooked beans. Good bread. Good tomatoes. Good olive oil. Specialty shaped pasta. Fresh basil. Blah blah blah. After everything I just said, even if you don’t have anything more special than a can of Del Monte diced tomatoes and a can of cannellini beans, and a bag of macaroni noodles, you should still give this recipe a shot. Dump the cans into a pan, simmer it up, tasting and seasoning it as you go. Cook the pasta, or just grab some crackers, and enjoy this simply delicious meal.
Check out this video below to see how truly easy this recipe is to make, and then scroll down for the full printable recipe.
Cozy Italian Tomatoes and White Beans
With just a can of good quality San Marzano tomatoes, and an equal amount of perfectly cooked white beans, you're about 20 minutes away from a delicious and comforting Italian inspired bruschetta appetizer or pasta entree.
- 2 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons miso paste
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- pinch red pepper flake, to taste
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic (or 3 to 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced)
- 1 can (28 ounces) really good San Marzano tomatoes
- 3 cups (2 cans) cooked and drained white beans such as navy or cannellini beans
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- pinch sugar
- salt to taste
- ¼ to ½ cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
- good sourdough bread
- Fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons
- good extra virgin olive oil
- Maldon or course salt
- orecchiette pasta, cooked according to package directions
- fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons
- good extra virgin olive oil
- Maldon or course salt
To a large (12 inch) skillet, add olive oil, miso paste, tomato paste, and red pepper flake. Turn the heat to medium, and cook, stirring continuously, until the tomato and miso pastes start to darken. Carefully add the tomatoes along with their juice. Scrape any darkened bits from the bottom of the pan, and then bring the mixture to a simmer, breaking up the large chunks of tomatoes as they being to warm through.
Add the drained beans, garlic, dried oregano, and black pepper. Continue to simmer, on medium to medium-high heat, and allow the mixture to reduce and get “jammy” for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Your beans and tomatoes are done when the sauce no longer immediately floods the bottom of the pan when you scrape your spoon across the bottom. Turn off the heat, and stir in the fresh basil.
Slice your bread into ½ inch thick pieces, and lightly drizzle each side with olive oil. Bring a cast iron skillet or grill pan to medium-high heat, and toast each slice of bread on each side until toasted and slightly charred. Generously spoon the Jammy Italian Tomatoes and Beans onto a serving plate, or into individual bowls. Drizzle with good olive oil and top with fresh basil and a few flakes of Maldon salt. Place toasted bread on the side of the plate along with a serving spoon.
Cook pasta according to package directions, reserving a bit of the pasta water before draining. Toss the drained orecchiette with the Jammy Italian Tomatoes and Beans to taste, using a bit of the pasta water to thin out the sauce is necessary. Topped with fresh basil, a drizzle of good olive oil, and a few flakes of course maldon salt.