This Italian bean stew is easy, fulfilling, and delicious, made with simple ingredients that you might already have in your pantry.
It's a great recipe for a quick but fulfilling homemade dinner, ready in just over 30 minutes, but also great as a meal prep recipe.
What to expect
There are many ways to cook beans in Italy. This bean stew is inspired by "Fagioli all'uccelletto", a traditional Italian recipe of beans cooked in a rich tomato sauce and seasoned fresh sage leaves.
If you haven't tried it yet, sage and beans are a match made in heaven.
We also show you how to serve the bean stew on polenta, couscous, and toasted bread, so that you can put together a healthy and nutritious meal in little time, and enjoy this delicious recipe with your family as an everyday dinner.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Beans: you can use canned beans or dry beans that you cook yourself. I like to make this stew with cranberry beans or pinto beans, but you can also use white beans, cannellini beans or red kidney beans.
- Tomatoes: the best tomatoes for this recipe are whole canned peeled tomatoes. If you can't find those then go for chopped canned tomatoes.
- Red onion, celery and carrot: we use these veggies to create a good flavour base for this dish.
- Olive oil: best if extra virgin, we use it to gently fry the vegetables.
- Sage: fresh if possible, if not then dried is your best bet, but put less if using dried sage. You can replace sage with a sprig of rosemary.
- Chili: we love this dish a little spicy. So we recommend adding some finely chopped red hot chili pepper, or chili powder.
- Parsley: to sprinkle on top and add a touch of freshness to the dish.
- Salt and pepper.
Start with a soffrito
To make any stew taste delicious it’s good practice to start with a flavor base of onion, celery, and carrots.
To a large pan, add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and turn the heat on to medium.
While the oil heats up, peel and cut 1 large red onion in half. Cut some horizontal slices, then vertical slices then cut them finely and add them to the pan with the oil.
Give it a stir, then finely chop two carrots. First slice them on the long side, then into thin slices, and finally into small dice and add them to the pan.
Now chop two stalks of celery. Slice them on the long side first, then chop them in small dice and add them to the pan with the onion and the carrot.
Stir the vegetables and let them cook on medium to low heat for about 5 minutes.
While they cook, pick your aromatics. I like to add sage to my stew. But rosemary is also fine if you don’t like sage. You can even use dry herbs but in lower amounts.
Finely chop the sage and add it to the pan. Then chop a small red hot chili pepper, of course adjusting the quantity based on your spice tolerance.
Add to the pan with the vegetables, stir, and cook for another 5 minutes adding a pinch of salt. If you notice that the pan gets dry, then you can either add more oil, or a dash of water.
In Italy, a flavor base made with olive oil, celery, carrot, and onion is called "soffritto" and it is used all the time to make soups, stews, sauces, and ragus.
It adds a lot of flavor to the final dish so I recommend keeping those vegetables handy if you are into homemade plant-based cooking.
How to save some time?
But if you are often in a hurry and don’t have time to do all this chopping, you can of course use a food processor to chop up the vegetables.
What I like to do to save even more time during the week is chopping a lot more vegetables than I need on a Sunday evening. I use a food processor for that but without overprocessing the veggies.
Then I put them in a freezer-friendly food container, this one's for baby food, and I freeze the whole thing.
Then when I need to make soffritto, for a quick dinner during the week, I just take one portion out of the freezer, and it saves me a lot of cutting and cleaning time.
Add the tomatoes and beans
Then when the vegetables are soft, add one large can of whole canned peeled tomatoes, that’s about 28 ounces or 800 grams, rinse the tomato can with ½ cup of water, and add that to the pan too.
Season with another pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper and let simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the tomatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
After 10 minutes, the tomatoes should be very tender. Crush them well with a fork, then rinse the canned beans and add them to the pan.
Here we are using cranberry beans, but you can also use pinto beans or red kidney beans.
Stir and let simmer for a final 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, till you have a thick bean stew.
Before serving, taste the stew, adjust for salt based on your taste and dietary preferences, and let cool down slightly.
While I wait for the stew to finish, I usually prepare the grain. You can pick any grain of your choice really, but here are some of our easy dinner favorites:
- For a quick 5-min preparation, we go for couscous. No stirring is required, it's a perfect grain choice for busy weeknights.
- Increase your veggie intake and make a quick portion of cauliflower rice. You can replace the cauliflower rice with the white rice or do a combination
- Serve it with bread to sop the sauce, for example, this flatbread or Italian piadina. Try this and I promise you, you are going to want to eat beans and bread all day long!
- Make it winter-friendly and serve with corn polenta. It's a healthy and heartwarming meal and you can make instant polenta in just 5 minutes.
How to make instant polenta
Stir the polenta in hot water with a pinch of salt, slowly, with a whisk, then cook it for about 5 minutes or as instructed on the package.
I mean, corn and beans have been eaten together for centuries because they just taste delicious together, and they complement each other from a nutritional point of view.
Arrange the polenta onto a plate, add the Italian bean stew on top and sprinkle with some freshly chopped parsley. I absolutely love this bean stew on top of polenta. It’s earthy, comforting, and nutritious.
If you love this Italian bean stew, try one of these quick and easy stews and soups next:
The bean stew stores very well for up to 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator, best if in an air-tight container. Warm it up on the stovetop or in the microwave.
You can also freeze the Italian bean stew for up to two months and thaw it in the microwave or on the stovetop at your convenience.
Italian bean stew
For the Italian bean stew
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large red onion
- 2 carrots
- 2 stalks celery
- 10 leaves sage or rosemary
- 1 small chili pepper or chili powder
- 1 large can of 28 ounces or 800 grams of whole peeled canned tomatoes
- 2 small cans of 15 ounces or 400 grams each of beans cranberry beans, pinto beans, red kidney beans (that's about 480 grams of drained beans)
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 handful parsley
- 1½ cups instant polenta read cooking instructions on package
- 1½ cups couscous read cooking instructions on package
- 4 slices rustic bread toasted
- Finely chop onion, celery and carrot. You can use a food processor if you like. Warm up the olive oil in a large pan. When the oil is hot, add the chopped vegetables and fry on medium heat for 5 minutes, adding a dash of water if necessary.
- Finely chop the sage leaves and the chili pepper and add it to the pan with the other vegetables. Keep cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the canned tomatoes to the pan, rinse the tomato can with ½ cup of water, and add that to the pan too. Season with a generous pinch of salt, and pepper. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Crush the tomatoes with a fork, then rinse the beans and add them to the pan. Stir and let simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Taste the stew, adjust for salt and pepper, and let sit for 5 minutes before serving on toasted bread, polenta, rice, cous cous, or on top of your favourite grain.Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley on top, and if you like, a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil.