Cannellini are large, white and creamy beans with thin skins. Often called white kidney beans, their unique and buttery flavor makes them a poor substitute for the red bean of similar shape.
Indigenous to Central and South America, Cannellini are best known as an ingredient in Tuscan-style Italian cuisine. They are grown throughout the hilly regions of Central Italy, with beans cultivated in Sorana prized as the best available. A Soranan chef, Valdo Verreschi, even penned a 1994 book extolling the perfection of locally-grown Cannellini: I Fagioli di Sorana. Cannellini grown in Sorana are not exported, but excellent product is available from other areas, including those grown on mountain farms in the Northwest region of the United States.
The rich, silky-textured Cannellini has even inspired food scientists to use them as a substitute for cooking fat in baked goods. One such study claims that up to 50% of the fat in a brownie recipe can be replaced with puréed Cannellini beans - if you find this interesting, but a terrible waste of chocolate, skim an interesting article abstract1 published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Mad kitchen scientists: go ahead, give them a try with this recipe from the blogmistress of Su Good Sweets.
Most cooks will limit their use of Cannellini beans to salads, soups, stews, casseroles and pasta dishes. Canned, pre-cooked Cannellini are available from in the U.S. from Progresso and Goya, or buy dried beans and cook them at home, Tuscan-style. Rinse the beans and put them in a large ceramic or glass bowl, then pour in enough fresh, cold water to cover them by about two inches. Soak for least six hours, checking after about two hours, adding more water if the beans have already absorbed most of the soaking liquid. Avoid panic when you see the the skins have expanded faster than the meaty portions during early hours of reconstitution. Transfer the soaked beans to a large colander or sieve, and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Drain, then place in a medium sized saucepan, add cold water to cover beans by an inch, and add a dash of salt and splash of olive oil. Bring to a simmer - do not boil - and cook gently for 45 to 60 minutes. Taste a test bean after 45 minutes; the texture must be soft and creamy, not al dente. Be very careful at the end of the cooking process; the road from perfectly cooked Cannellini to ugly beans with split skins is short indeed.
Bon Appétit! Remember to buy some Beano - and that Cannellini are a good source of vitamins and minerals - including iron, magnesium and folate.
1Szafranski,M, Whittington, JA. Bessinger C: Pureed Cannellini Beans Can Be Substituted for Shortening in Brownies. J Am Dietetic Assn, 2005; 155:8, 1295-1298.
Marcella Hazen, Marcella Says...: Italian Cooking Wisdom from the Legendary Teacher's Master Classes (New York: Harper Collins, 2004), 58-61.
Madeline Kamman, The New Making of a Cook: The Art, Techniques and Science of Good Cooking (New York: William Morrow, 1997), 487-489.
Lori Zimring de Mori, Mangia-Fagioli, Saveur.com
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. (NDB No: 16050: Beans, white, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt.)
Cannellini Beans, Prevention Magazine Online, Food Encyclopedia.