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Canned white beans

That stack of bean cans in the pantry is more versatile than you may think.

When the sun is shining and the mercury is risen, the less time spent in the kitchen the better - it's time to turn to clever short cuts. So, while in winter we're partial to bean dishes started from scratch, in summer we're very happy to simply reach for a can.

Canned pulses of any kind are ideal pantry staples: you can have them stashed and on hand almost indefinitely (as any doomsday prepper will tell you). Not all brands are created equal, though, and it's worth doing a little research and experimentation to see which you like best. Beyond that, the only other thing to remember is not to buy dented, swollen or rusted cans.

In terms of preparation, all you need to do is tip them into a colander or sieve and rinse off the canning juices under cold running water.

We love canned white beans - also sold as cannellini beans - for their pale beauty and subtle flavour. Their texture is softer than beans cooked from a dry start, which makes them perfect for purées and dips or for one of the quickest soups you can whip up. They're great tossed through a salad just as they are, or quickly warmed in a little vinaigrette to serve alongside barbecued fish. Now, where's that can opener?

White bean soup with summer tomatoes and basil
Serves 4-6
Heat 50ml olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add 1 thinly sliced Spanish onion, 2 crushed garlic cloves and 1 tsp each fennel seeds and dried chilli flakes. Sauté onion until tender, then add 1 litre chicken or vegetable stock and two 400gm cans white beans, rinsed and drained. Season to taste, add 2 thyme sprigs and 1 fresh bay leaf, bring to the simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Remove herbs, add juice of 1-2 lemons, or to taste, then a splash of red wine vinegar. Pulse with a handheld blender until semi-puréed with a little texture remaining and serve warm, topped with a handful of crushed cherry tomatoes, or wedges of vine-ripened tomatoes, coarsely torn basil and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Seared tuna with white beans, capsicum and olives
Serves 4
Preheat a barbecue or char-grill pan to high. Lightly brush four 200gm skinless tuna steaks with a little olive oil and cook, turning occasionally, until rare (4-5 mins), then set aside. Warm 60ml olive oil, 2 tbsp white wine vinegar and 1 crushed garlic clove in a saucepan over medium heat, season to taste and add the finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon, or to taste. Add a 400gm can white beans, rinsed and drained, and 100gm char-grilled red capsicum (from the deli counter), coarsely torn, and warm through gently. Remove from heat, add a handful of coarsely torn flat-leaf parsley and ½ handful of oregano. Stir to wilt, then serve alongside the seared tuna.

Warm white bean and chorizo salad
Serves 4
Heat 70ml olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat, add 3 thickly sliced chorizo and fry, turning occasionally, until crisp. Transfer chorizo and oil to a bowl, add two 400gm cans white beans, rinsed and drained, 2 ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges, a handful of black olives, a handful of torn flat-leaf parsley, ½ thinly sliced Spanish onion and 1 crushed garlic clove. Dress with juice of 1 orange and ½ lemon and a splash of Sherry vinegar, season to taste, toss to combine and serve warm.

Garlicky crushed white beans on charred sourdough
Serves 4
Dry-roast 1½ tsp each coriander seeds and cumin seeds until fragrant, then coarsely crush in a mortar and pestle. Coarsely crush two 400gm cans white beans, rinsed and drained, in a bowl with a fork. Add 100ml extra-virgin olive oil, juice of 2 lemons, or to taste, 2 crushed garlic cloves and roasted spices and combine. Season to taste and set aside. Preheat a barbecue or char-grill pan to high. Brush 4 thick slices of sourdough bread with olive oil and char-grill until crisp and lightly charred at the edges. Rub with the cut side of a garlic clove and serve warm with crushed white beans.


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