Italian White Beans with Kale and Polenta

Did someone say it’s spring?  Who said that?!  Like I mentioned here, it is taking a RIDICULOUSLY long time for spring to get here in the Midwest.  It’s almost April and we’ve had snow off and on for the past week and we haven’t seen the sun in like forever and my patience is wearing thin.  I have nothing against winter, per se, but this time of year there’s just no room in my psyche for day after day of gray skies, barren trees and frigid temperatures.  Aarrgh!

This is when I really feel my inner Californian turning all rebellious and ornery.  I mean, I was planting my garden in March back there, not wearing snow boots!  But I’ve taken my medication and can now get on with singing the praises of this lovely, satisfying, warming, dare I say, comforting, bowl of cannellini bean goodness.  Yes, if it insists on being winter around here, I will keep cooking winter food.  And I guess you could say that simmering beans and kale and sweet peppers until they’re transformed into a luscious state of soothing warmth is indeed a most awesome dish, winter or spring. 

 And did I mention the health benefits of kale?  I didn’t think so, but it seems that in addition to tasting really good, it’s also one of the main players out there in the antioxidant, cancer-fighting, vitamin-loaded, good-for-you super foods…

 I  ❤️ kale.

...and simmered with beautiful cannellini beans and tomatoes and garlic and crushed red pepper and balsamic vinegar, and onions and peppers and then mingled with this lusciously creamy polenta, well, it makes the final weeks of winter almost bearable.  Almost. Here’s the recipe…


Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe adapted from the San Francisco Chronicle

1 ¾  quarts water

1 ½ cups dry white beans (such as Cannellini or Great Northerns)

4 cups packed kale leaves, roughly chopped

1 ¾ cups canned crushed,  peeled tomatoes

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 red or orange bell pepper, chopped

2 tsp minced garlic

½ teaspoon each, leaf thyme, leaf oregano

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tsp salt

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Bring water to a boil in a large pot, then add beans. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes, then add 2 cups of the kale, tomatoes and bay leaf. Continue to simmer, covered, for another half hour.

Meanwhile, heat oil and saute onion, pepper and garlic in it with thyme, oregano and red pepper flakes. After the beans have simmered 30 minutes, stir in sauteed vegetables. Add salt and balsamic vinegar. Cover and cook for another hour, adding water if needed, or if the sauce seems too thin, leave the lid off to thicken the sauce.  Cook until beans are tender and the sauce is the desired consistency.  Adjust seasonings and add the remaining 2 cups of chopped kale.  Simmer another 5 minutes and serve over creamy polenta and topped with grated parmesan cheese.

For the Polenta:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups milk

1 cup polenta

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup Italian cheese blend (usually a mixture of asiago, provolone, fontina and parmesan)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1  1/2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 tablespoon finely sliced chives or finely chopped basil

Heat the olive oil in a 2-qt sauce pan over medium-low heat and add the minced garlic. Cook until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add the chicken broth, kosher salt and milk, and bring to a boil over medium high heat.   Reduce the heat and slowly pour the cornmeal into the hot liquid, whisking to prevent lumps. 

Lower the heat to cook the mixture at a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until the cornmeal is creamy, about 20 to 30 minutes. The more you stir, the creamier it will be.  Remove the polenta from the heat and stir the cheese, butter, and the herbs.  Cover and keep warm. 

Serves 4-5

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