White beans

Often labeled as cannellini or navy beans, white beans offer an almost entirely blank culinary canvas. Mash them into fritters, blend them into dip, cook them into soups, saute them with vegetables and even bake them into sweet desserts. White beans have a fairly bland taste and a malleable texture, so they take just about any seasoning.

A can of beans is a quick alternative, but you can also make them from their dried stage for an inexpensive, flavorful option. Unless you plan to use the beans as part of another recipe that has its own particular ingredients, season the beans as they cook.

Long cooking with chopped onion, celery and bay leaves brings out their savory qualities. As they simmer, add fresh or dried thyme, black pepper, a hunk of smoked meat -- such as a ham hock -- and other herbs that you favor, including rosemary or a dried Italian blend.

Canned white beans usually come without seasoning, except for salt. You can't go wrong seasoning white beans with smoked, cured meats -- including ham shanks and pancetta -- olive oil, and fresh herbs, such as thyme and tarragon.

When served as a salad, white beans marry well with citrus juices -- especially lemon or lime -- or most vinegars, and olive or walnut oil. Most vegetables also work with white beans, including tomatoes, arugula, spinach and bell pepper.

Hundreds of recipes for white beans exist, because they can be seasoned with such versatility.

  • Make a savory side dish for pork chops or chicken by sauteing the beans with chopped onion, minced garlic and red pepper flakes. Add in fresh spinach, just until wilted, and top with bacon bits.
  • Mash the beans with cloves of roasted garlic and olive oil.
  • Blend the beans with tahini, sesame paste, olive oil and lemon juice for a white bean hummus.
  • Saute the beans with canned, diced tomatoes, oregano and minced garlic for an Italian-style side. 
  • Puree mint leaves, lemon juice and garlic with white beans to spread on top of crostini.
  • Add chopped smoked or Italian sausage and fresh tarragon along with onions, carrots and white wine.
  • Serve white beans cold with an olive oil and lemon juice dressing with minced fresh parsley and red onions. 
  • Make white beans Latin-style with minced garlic, cumin, and fresh or canned green chilies. 
  • Heat white beans and mix with minced anchovies. Spread on pizza crust and top with cheese and roasted fresh fennel
  • Blend white beans with baking soda, vanilla extract, nut butter, milk, sugar and chocolate chips for a sweet dip to serve with graham crackers and fruit.