I love a good pot of beans simmering away on the stove. There are so many ways to flavor beans, from onions and garlic to chilies to herbs. But one of my favorite methods involves cooking the beans in a few rinds of parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino cheese for a rich, umami flavor. A slew of aromatics helps round out the broth.
Depending on the size of your pot, the type of beans, and the amount of water, cooking instructions might vary. Here, I like to give you guidelines rather than sharing a formal recipe so that you can adapt as you like. Think of it as a no-recipe recipe.
I’ll walk through how to make a delicious base for simmering your beans and topping them with some fresh peas, asparagus, and lemon to give the dish brightness. If you’re worried about how many parm rinds, peppercorns, or chilies to add, you can always start with less and add more as the broth cooks and the flavors continue to develop.
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White Beans in a Parm Broth with Peas, Asparagus, and Lemon
- 1 cup Dried white beans, such as cannellini
- Olive oil
- 1 Head of garlic, cut in half crosswise
- 1 Onion, cut in half
- Black peppercorns
- Chili flakes or fresh chilies to give the broth a little heat, optional
- A handful or two of fresh herbs, woodier herbs, like thyme, bay leaves, or rosemary can add a nice earthy flavor; parsley and basil add a bit of freshness
- Parm or pecorino rinds, you’ll want at least 2 rinds here for a noticeable flavor, but 3 or 4 is even better
- Any other aromatics you'd like, parsnip, celery, carrots, etc. to flavor the broth
- Salt and pepper
- A handful of fresh or frozen peas
- A handful or two of asparagus, cut on the bias into 1-inch pieces
- A lemon
- Freshly grated parm or pecorino cheese for garnish
- Some toasted bread for serving
- Start off by rinsing your dried white beans a few times to remove dirt and debris.
- Soak the beans in a bowl with at least 2 inches of water, uncovered, for anywhere from 3 to 12 hours. Soaking beans can speed up the cooking process and lead to more even cooking (if you use very fresh beans, you don't need to soak them). After soaking, drain the beans and set aside.
- In a large dutch oven or stockpot, add a healthy amount of olive oil (at least a couple of tablespoons). Heat the oil to medium heat, then add the garlic and onion pieces cut side down into the pan to caramelize and brown for a few minutes.
- Add the black peppercorns and chili flakes/peppers (if using) until they just begin to sizzle, about 30 seconds.
- Add the beans to the pot and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Stir in the herbs, cheese rinds, and any other aromatics. Add a large pinch of salt and pepper, and note that the broth will get saltier as it continues to reduce.
- Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down until the beans are simmering. Simmer, uncovered, the beans until tender; this can take anywhere from 1 to 4 hours depending on how long you soaked your beans. The beans should always be submerged by the water — if your water level goes too low, add more water. After the initial 30 minutes of simmering, I typically check every 30 minutes for tenderness.
- Once the beans are cooked through, season again with salt. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to discard the aromatics, herbs, and anything else you don’t want to end up in your final dish.
- Bring the brothy beans up to a simmer, and add the peas and asparagus until just cooked through. Make sure to do this right before serving, so that the vegetables stay that vibrant green color. Note that fresh peas will take longer to cook than frozen peas.
- Season again with salt and a generous pinch of black pepper (the pepper really balances the cheese flavor). Squeeze a bit of lemon juice, to taste, into the broth.
- Immediately serve the beans in their hot broth with some freshly grated cheese and toasted bread.
- Beans love fat. Don’t be shy with the olive oil here.
- You don’t need to peel the onion or the garlic, as you’ll remove them from the broth later on. But, if it bothers you, feel free to peel them.
- Frozen peas will cook in a couple of minutes, while fresh peas take longer — so keep that in mind as you’re finishing the dish!
- Can I make this with canned beans? Yes and no. You absolutely can, but it requires a bit of rejiggering. Fresh bean broth adds so much flavor, richness, and a starchiness to the broth that you’ll need to replicate to achieve the right texture.
- Focus on creating a rich broth, first, with a store-bought (or homemade!) vegetable or chicken stock, and simmer it with the spices, aromatics, and parm rinds for at least an hour. Because bean broth tends to have a starchier, thicker consistency, you could try adding some of the liquid from the can of beans or thickening the broth with cornstarch. Once the broth is to your liking, add the beans back in and cook the peas and asparagus.