Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cannellini Bean Stew

This is one of my most epic creations.

One day, Jeff came home for lunch and there weren't enough leftovers in the fridge to go around.  I generously offered them to him, and scrounged around the kitchen for my own lunch. I found some tomatoes, spinach, and a few cups of leftover cannellini beans. And then the magic happened.

I really didn't know what I was going to make. I just started putting ingredients together in an order that made sense. First, onions sauteed in olive oil. Then, herbs and garlic were stirred in until fragrant. Then, chopped tomatoes joined the party. So far, it was just a lovely fresh tomato sauce. Then I added the beans and let them stew in the mixture, absorbing some of the juice from the tomatoes. Finally, I added in some spinach and let it cook down. Presto! Cannellini bean stew.

What makes it truly awesome is the health factor. I've been using myfooddiary to track my calories and nutrient intakes. What I like about the site is that, when it breaks down your meals, it shades the boxes green or red to let you know what elements of the meal are good or bad for you. A lunch without enough protein or too much sugar will have those boxes shaded red. A lunch with a lot of fiber and iron will have those shaded green. This was the first meal I'd ever cooked that was green across the board. One serving (which I figured was about a quarter of the recipe) has a third of my daily values of iron and vitamin C, more than a full day's worth of vitamin A, and 14 grams of fiber. There is a negligible amount of saturated fat (less than a gram) and no cholesterol. And the percentages of calories from fat, carbs and protein are nicely balanced (20/60/20).

I am not surprised that I could reach around my kitchen, grab ingredients and make something tasty. I do this a lot from leftovers. This dish turned out prettier than most (I make ugly but delicious scrambled egg dishes on a regular basis). But what really floored me is that I could throw together something so healthy, with so little effort on my part. I guess it comes from having a kitchen stocked with healthy ingredients. I need to remember this every time I go to the grocery store - sticking to my list for that one hour will make sure I stick to my diet for the rest of the week. And, perhaps, lead to more epic lunch creations.

Cannellini Bean Stew
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced (you could mince them, if you prefer - I was just being a little lazy)
2 tbsp assorted fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley, sage)
15 oz can diced tomatoes, with liquid (if you have fresh tomatoes on hand, dice up two large ones)
1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
3-4 c cooked cannellini beans
4 c spinach, washed and chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, 4-5 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and chopped herbs and stir around for about a minute, until everything is fragrant.

Add the tomatoes and vinegar and stir to combine. Simmer for 4-5 minutes, to let all the flavors blend together. (While it was simmering, I took a potato masher and mashed down some of the larger chunks of tomato, to make the mixture more saucy. It worked beautifully.) Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the beans to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes, until heated through. Taste and season again, if necessary.

Add the spinach and stir until it is wilted down and combined with the sauce. Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, or just enjoy it on its own!

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