Sunday Spring Cleaning: Runner Cannellini Bean Stew with Herb Pesto

canellinistewI generally think of bean stew as being hearty, thick with sausage, tomatoes, vegetables and a thick gravy.  This one, based loosely on a recipe from Stone Barns chef Dan Barber, and presented in Rancho Gordo cookbook Heirloom Beans, is surprisingly light and Springy, with a subtle play of flavor and texture from the white beans, pesto sauce and goat cheese. Like most bean soups and stews, the recipe is extremely versatile, and well-adapted to using up odds & ends of veggies in the crisper drawer and pesto or sauces in the freezer or pantry. Despite the somewhat haphazard array of ingredients, the pesto came together quite nicely, and is easy to taste test and adjust as you don’t add it until the beans are done cooking.  The beans get excellent flavor from the long simmer in turkey stock and vegetables and they fill the kitchen with the most amazing smell – the hardest part of this recipe is waiting for it to be ready!

An excellent stew for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

For general tips on cooking with dried beans, check out Beanpot.  Not your cup of tea?  Click beans in the category list for more great bean recipes, or click here for more Sunday Spring Cleaning.


Runner Cannellini Bean Stew with Herb Pesto



  • 8 oz dried runner cannellini beans, soaked overnight in cool, filtered water to cover by 2 inches (also available at Rancho Gordo)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small carrot, scrubbed well (or peeled) and chopped in half
  • about half of a small green garlic stalk (4 inches), sliced in half lengthwise, washed well
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf, dried
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 3-4 cups turkey stock (or chicken, or vegetable for a vegetarian version)
  • 1 tsp sea salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 2 oz chevre, for garnish
  • sprinkling of fresh parsley leaves, for garnish
  • toasted bread, crostini or croutons, for garnish


  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomato pesto (or dried tomatoes packed in oil)
  • 4 tbsp basil pesto
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup spinach leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup young arugula, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sea salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste


  1. Drain the beans and rinse well. 
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat until shimmering.  Add vegetables, cook for 1 minute, then turn down heat and saute until carmelized, about 6 – 8 minutes. Add beans, bay leaf, sprigs of parsley and thyme and enough stock to cover the beans by 1 inch (if you do not have enough stock, add cool, filtered water).  Brings beans to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until beans are just tender, about 1 and 1/2 hours.  Add salt & pepper about halfway through cooking (I set a timer for 45 minutes) in order to prevent the beans from splitting.
  3. Add sun-dried tomato pesto (or sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil; they will make their own pesto), basil pesto, garlic, and half of the spinach, arugula and parsley to the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse a few times to combine, then, with the feed tube open, drizzle in olive oil while the motor is running, adding the rest of the greens as you process.  Turn off the machine and season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
  4. Taste the beans to determine that they are at optimal texture.  Drain in a colander over a large bowl, reserving broth.  Discard (compost) vegetables, bay leaf and herb sprigs.  Rinse the saucepan and return the beans to the pot, along with about half of the reserved broth.
  5. Add the pesto to the beans and bring the stew to a gentle simmer, being careful not to allow it to boil. Add more bean broth as needed to achieve the desired consistency in the sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings.  Ladle into bowls, dollop with goat cheese, sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve with croutons or freshly toasted bread.


  1. The orginal recipe includes pancetta (one 3- to 4-ounce piece) in the vegetable saute’.  You could also use bacon grease, in place of olive oil, to attain some smoky pork flavor.  I think I prefer the lighter, fresher taste of the stew with a simple green sauce.
  2. The original pesto is completely different from mine: it includes cornichons, capers, mustard, egg, achovy, chervil and tarragon.  About the only similar thing is the spinach and arugula (which I had in the fridge).  As I said, the pesto is very adapatable; feel free to toss in whatever you like and/or whatever needs using up.  Extra pesto can always be tucked away in the fridge for the next soup, stew or pasta dinner.
  3. I thought that the goat cheese really tied the whole thing together; the texture and flavor enhanced the flavor of the pesto and the new-potato texture of the beans.  For a vegan version, try soft tofu or soy yogurt as a substitute.


Like most bean stews, this will be better the day after.  Stores well in the refrigerator for about 1 week.


Year-round, but for freshest spinach and arugula, Spring or Fall is best.

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