Tomato, Fennel, and White Bean Stew

Here is an incredible stew that is delicious any time of the year!
The original recipe came from a canadian cookbook handed down to me by my Grandfather. It become a bit tweaked over time and I've been known to swap ingredients in it to suit what I have in my fridge but here it is in a more or less pure state.
The versatility of this stew is in the ingredients. In the summer I make it from fresh tomatoes while in the winter I stick to canned. In the summer I top it with fresh basil whereas this time of the year I garnish with fennel fronds. For lunch I eat it with a slice of crusty bread. For dinner I serve it atop pearl barley for a more filling dish. Plus if your looking for a good way to use up extra cranberry beans, you're in luck here.

Ingredients (Adapted from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook): 
  • 5 tomatoes, diced OR one 32 oz can whole tomatoes, diced
  • 1 large fennel bulb washed and thinly sliced
  • 2 leeks, washed and sliced
  • 2 medium red skin desiree potatoes cubed
  • 1 1/2 cups prepared white beans of any variety
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 3 TBL olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh basil or fennel fronds for garnish

1. Saute the diced leeks in olive oil for 7 minutes over medium heat until soft.

2. Toss in the minced garlic and saute 1 minute until fragrant.

3. Season the softened leeks with the thyme and fennel seed and about a tsp of salt.

4. Stir in the sliced fennel, potatoes, beans, and tomatoes (plus juice if using canned). Pour in your vegetable stock and mix well.

5. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer partially covered for 20 minutes until potatoes begin to soften. The tomatoes will release their juices and the stew will turn a vibrant red orange.

6. Uncover and stir in the white wine. Taste the stew and add salt and pepper to taste. Continue to simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.

The beauty of stew is that it sits somewhere between a soup and a saute. The result of this stew will be a hearty vibrant mix of protein, starch, and wonderful flavors in a bright oily savory broth. Garnish with basil or fennel fronds and enjoy on a rainy afternoon or a chilly evening.

This stew also freezes wonderfully. Allow it to cool completely before freezing it in marked containers for next weeks lunch.

Serves 4-6

Try me: Cranberry Beans

I came across these amazing beans at the Chinese produce shop around the corner from me the other day. You know how much I love a Chinese run grocery. The prices can't be beat!

Cranberry beans (also referred to as Borlotti beans)are shelling beans meaning the tough pods are inedible, but so pretty to look at! They are in season throughout the fall but we've all been having such a warm winter that I am still finding them in various stores. The beans are popular in Italian, French, and Mediterranean cuisine but they're mild flavor makes them extremely versatile. Use them in place of other varieties of white beans or build a dish around them. The thing I found remarkable about cranberry beans is that they are so widely available fresh. Have you ever had a fresh bean? I honestly hadn't until I tried these. They take less time to cook and their finish is much firmer and heartier than a dried or canned bean. 

To prepare fresh cranberry beans, shell them by pressing along the spine of the firm pod. The pod will spring open easily revealing a row of large vibrant beans inside which should loosen and fall out with little effort.

 The beans themselves should be firm and smooth with varied spotting and a slight green hue indicating rawness. To give you an idea of how many beans a package of pods will yield, I purchased about 2/3 of a pound which gave me approximately 3/4 of a cup of beans. You can also consider that each pod holds between 3 and 5 beans.

Discard the tough shells or, rinse them in a colander and add them to your stock bag.

Add beans to a large pot of salted water. You may add a bay leaf or some sprigs of sage for depth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30 or so minutes until beans are cooked through. 

At this point you may drain them (don't rinse) and add them to your favorite recipe or simply saute them with a little garlic and oil before tossing them with a simple salad to showcase the mild nutty flavor.

Try a cranberry bean today!