Sometimes, I hesitate to share a recipe because it seems almost too simple, too basic.
But, there’s a reason why some of these very simple recipes have been around forever – like this classic white beans and greens dish from Northern Italy. It’s a combination of fast + foolproof + delicious. (Not to mention naturally vegan and gluten-free.)
And – it’s suitable for any season.
I find myself making it in the Summer because it’s super-fast and requires minimal time standing in a hot kitchen. Plus it’s a great partner to any fresh summer veggies or sides I may have on hand – Fresh sliced tomato? Yellow squash or zucchini? Chilled couscous or quinoa salad?
In Autumn and Winter, I like it as a main, with warm, crusty, “buttery” bread and a fresh, juicy apple or Clementine for dessert.
I will warn, however, that when you have a simple recipe like this, you need top-quality ingredients.
Use a good quality extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar – don’t try to substitute canola oil and apple cider vinegar.
Use fresh garlic, not garlic powder.
Use white beans – cannelleni or Great Northern – don’t try to sub red kidney beans, black beans, or pinto beans. White beans have a mildness of flavor and seductive creaminess that pairs with spinach almost magically.
Finally, the vegan Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast is entirely optional, but DON’T skip that final drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
Ingredients for Tuscan White Beans & Greens
1 Large Bunch or Package Fresh Spinach (about 12 oz. – 1 lb)
1 Can Cannellini or Northern Beans, rinsed and drained
3 Large Garlic Cloves, minced or pressed
1 TBL top-quality Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
1 TBL+ Balsamic Vinegar
Sea Salt, to taste
1/8 Cup Water
Vegan Parmesan (optional) or Nutritional Yeast (optional)
Directions for Tuscan White Beans & Greens:
Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes; saute for about 2 minutes, or until garlic is golden.
Add the spinach in handfuls. Toss it around a little in the pan to coat in the oil and spices. Once it starts to wilt, add another handful. (Popping the lid on the pan in between handfuls accelerates this process.)
Once you’re able to fit all the spinach in the pan (this should only take a few minutes), add no more than 1/8 cup water and 2 teaspoons balsalmic vinegar. Add the beans. Stir to mix, then cook for about 2 minutes, until the beans are heated through and all the spinach is wilted but still bright green.
Season with salt to taste. (And do taste first, because some brands of canned beans can be extreemely salty!)
Scoop into bowls and drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette. Those who like it hot can add an extra sprinkle of red pepper flakes.
Optional – Top with vegan Parmesan Cheese (I like the GoVeggie brand!) or nutritional yeast.
Frugal vegans can also use frozen spinach instead of fresh – especially if feeding a crowd! It doesn’t taste quite as good as fresh but it’s much more economical and goes a long way towards “stretching” your meal. Thaw in the microwave first and drain the extra liquid before adding to the pan.
You can also use other greens – escarole, chard. I would advise staying away from stronger tasting greens such as collards, mustard, or turnip greens. I personally prefer spinach because the taste is mild, it cooks quickly, and is readily available at most groceries throughout the year. Escarole would be my second choice, because it can be harder to find and a tad more expensive.
I’ve seen similar recipes that call for using a cup or more of vegetable broth. WHAT? You don’t need extra flavor (what with the garlic, red peppers, and balsamic vinegar). And spinach releases a great deal of water as it steams, so you only need to add enough liquid to keep your spinach from burning. The goal is to wind up with beans and greens, not soup.