Braised Beans and Spinach Comfort Food at Its Best
There’s something to be said about comfort food and these braised beans and spinach is about as comfortable as you can get. I wasn’t sure where this recipe was going but I wanted to use ingredients I happened to have in the house.
It’s a meal you can prepare in 30 minutes and I can’t wait to eat leftovers for lunch today when I know it will be even better. So let’s look at the ingredients and talk about substitutions.
Guanciale pronounced gwaan·chaa·lei comes from the jowl (cheek) of a pig. It is the key ingredient to classic Italian dishes like bucatini all’amatriciana and spaghetti alla carbonara.
I happen to have some in my refrigerator because I recently made bucatini all’amatriciana after watching the Rome episode of Searching for Italy with Stanley Tucci on CNN. I’ll be posting that recipe soon and writing another post about this incredible product.
It is a cured meat product made seasoned with salt, sugar, pepper and depending on where it is being made different herbs including rosemary, garlic and sage.
You can substitute pancetta or bacon for this dish but you won’t get the same intense flavor you will with guanciale. It may be a little difficult to find unless you have a good Italian market in your area but you can order it online from several sources including Amazon.
Another item not found in every supermarket but they should be. I used cranberry beans because I had them in my pantry and I love using them for dishes like Pasta e Fagioli.
They are very similar to a pinto bean in size but have a milder flavor. If you can’t find cranberry beans, I would substitute cannellini beans, also called white kidney beans. You could also try Great Northern beans.
Again, I used what I had on hand but I think if you were in Italy, they would make a dish similar to this with escarole. You can also substitute kale or Swiss chard.
Braised Beans and Spinach with Pecorino Romano Cheese
- 3 ounces guanciale finely diced
- 1 small yellow onion diced
- 1 leek trimed, sliced thin, washed
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary finely minced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- red pepper flakes to taste
- 8 ounces baby spinach washed
- 30 ounces cranberry beans 2 - 15 ounce cans
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 lemon cut in half, pits removed
- salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup Pecorino Romano cheese more for serving
- Prep the ingredients.
- Heat a medium sized soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the guanciale and cook for about 5 minutes until golden but do not burn.
- Add the onion and leek and saute for another 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic, rosemary and red pepper flakes. Cook for 2 minutes being sure to stir so the garlic doesn't burn.
- Add the spinach one handful at a time while stirring. When the first handful of spinach wilts, add another. Continue until all the spinch is in the pan and wilted.
- Add the carnberry beans and chicken broth. Stir and bring to a boil. As soon as the broth comes to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 8 minutes. While the broth is simmering add some freshly ground pepper.
- Normally I would say season with salt too but the guanciale is very salty and you'll be adding Pecorino cheese, also very salty. So wait until the end when you taste and adjust seasoning. The Pecorino Romano cheese will also give the broth a wonderful creaminess.
- To thicken the braise, use a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon to mash some of the beans. This is optional.
- Turn off the heat and add the juice from the lemon halves. Stir and add the Pecorino cheese. Stir again.
- Taste the broth and adjust seasoning with salt and/or pepper if needed.
- Serve in bowls with some pepper flakes on the side for those who want to spice it up more.