Cannellini beans are a large white variety of kidney bean very popular in Central and Southern Italy. You may recognize them as the classic bean found in minestrone soup.
I use cannellini in this hearty casserole for a couple of reasons. Using dried cannellini beans gives the dish superior texture plus the beans get the chance to soak up all the flavors of the garlic and herbs.
Once you read through the recipe one time, you’ll see that this is not a difficult dish to make. It is, however, time consuming but your efforts will be rewarded with unmatched freshness and taste. Here’s to cooking in my favorite season of the year, autumn!
1½ pounds dried cannellini beans
6 sprigs plus 1½ tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (divided)
3 sprigs plus 3 tablespoons chopped parsley (divided)
½ medium white onion (peeled but not diced)
3 whole cloves
1 medium fennel bulb (stalks and fronds reserved; bulb quartered and diced)
12 cloves garlic (6 cloves peeled and halved; 6 cloves minced)
3 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
2 cups carrots (diced)
1 large white onion (diced)
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1½ cups reserved liquid
1½ cups fresh breadcrumbs
Soak beans in large bowl of cold water overnight. Drain.
Put beans in 5 ½ to 6-quart Dutch oven (I use a 5 1/2-quart All-Clad stainless steel Dutch oven) and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Tie together 6 thyme and 3 parsley sprigs together and add to pot. Pierce onion half with cloves and add to pot. Add fennel fronds and stalks to pot with the 6 halved garlic cloves.
Partially cover, and bring to a boil. Uncover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 35 to 40 minutes, or until beans are just tender. Drain beans, and reserve cooking liquid. Discard herb bundles, onion, and fennel. Wipe out Dutch oven for next step.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat 2 of the tablespoons of oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add carrots and diced fennel bulb and season with salt, if desired. Cover, and cook for 8 minutes stirring occasionally. The carrots and fennel will begin to caramelize. That’s OK.
Add the large white diced-onion and cook, covered, for another 5 minutes or until onion is soft and bottom of pan is browning. Add the 6 cloves of minced garlic, and cook 1 minute more. It should start to really smell good at this point.
Remove pot from heat and stir in vinegar. Use a spatula to scrape up any browned (caramelized!) bits of onion stuck to the bottom. Add beans, chopped thyme, 2 tablespoons of the chopped parsley, and 1 1/2 to 2 cups bean cooking liquid. The total liquid in the pot should come to about 1 1/2 to 2 inches below top of beans; add more if necessary. Stir well to combine.
Combine breadcrumbs and remaining 1 tablespoon chopped parsley in small bowl. Drizzle remaining 1 tablespoon oil into crumb mixture, and combine to moisten breadcrumbs. Spread breadcrumb mixture over bean mixture.
Bake uncovered for 40 to 45 minutes, or until top is browned and juices have bubbled down below surface, leaving brown rim around edge of crust. Remove from oven and cool for at least 20 minutes to allow beans to finish absorbing juices.
Serve warm with lots of fresh homemade rolls.