Leafy Green

Heidi Swanson's Pan-Fried Giant White Beans with Kale

September 10, 2014

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: This month, we're teaming up with Kitchen Arts & Letters for a Back to the Kitchen Genius Series. Managing Partner Matt Sartwell will share memorable recipes from his 20+ years running the famed cookbook store; we get to revamp our weekday routines.

Next up: A genius trick for getting the most out of your beans and greens.

Shop the Story

beans and greens

If you've ever paired beans with greens, you know that it's not only poetic but also smart. Together, they're inarguably good for us, and are easily made delicious in all kinds of friendly guises -- soups, stews, curriessalads -- so they're embraced by everyone from vegans to gluten-avoiders to people like me who eat Shake Shack on the way home from the gym. Beans and greens is the all-level yoga of dinners.

Pan-fried white beans with kale

But what you may not yet know is that you can pan-fry your beans (and greens) like Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks, and they'll be even better; that when you slip beans into hot oil for a few minutes, their skin ripples and blisters and browns. As Swanson wrote to me, "You get the extra good crust in an old cast iron skillet." (She followed this with a fist bump emoji and a winky face, and now we have another reason to love Heidi Swanson.)

kale  lemon zest

The improvement in pan-frying, at its most obvious, is about texture. Beans are normally a soft, mushy comfort -- here, we're giving them a crispy skin we didn't know they had in them, while the middles stay good and creamy. This is the equivalent of fried rice, or when I learned it was okay to fry toast in olive oil -- take a staff of life, crisp it up in oil; life improves accordingly. Then you'll wilt in twists of kale, softened but not given the chance to get watery, plus toasted walnuts, and your plate now has very little in common with mush.

chopping walnuts  parmesan cheese

But this technique is just as much about flavor, which concentrates quickly in the hot pan: In the space of two minutes, you'll add garlic, then lemon juice and zest, then grated nutmeg, and the beans and greens will take up all of it. What you end up with has the brightness of a salad, but the coziness of anything in the warming fall casserole oeuvre.

panfrying beans  panfrying beans 

  panfrying beans

It might sound like a lot of work to cook beans start-to-finish, and then pan-fry them -- one of those novelty recipes you bookmark but will never actually make. It's not. Here's why:

Once you cook a big pot of beans and keep them around all week, you'll want to do it every week. If you have that pot sitting in your fridge (and yes, I stick the whole thing in after it cools), you are never more than 15 minutes away from a big pile of crusty-creamy beans and greens.

beans and greens

The recipe calls for giant beans, because flipping them is easier, and you get more creamy to balance the crusty. Swanson uses beautiful corona beans from Rancho Gordo; I used a bag of dried limas, the only large beans I could find at the unpleasant grocery store nearby; you can use whatever you pull out of your pantry, even smaller cannellini or chickpeas, if that's all you've got -- even canned.

Sure, home-cooked beans will keep their integrity and make this the best it can be. But this method is the simplest and most effective way I've found to make canned beans not taste like a can.

pan-fried beans and greens

From whatever point you start, as Kitchen Arts & Letters' Matt Sartwell told me, "It's nearly impossible to make too much of this, and the basic idea is a great place to begin improvising. I've used beet greens with the fibrous stems chopped finely. I've substituted chickpeas and leftover sautéed kale. And no matter what combination I have tried, it disappears at parties."

"Someday I will make enough to try it as a leftover. Hasn't happened yet, but I bet it would be great." (I tried it for him -- he's right.)

beans and greens on toast

Heidi Swanson's Pan-Fried Giant White Beans with Kale

Adapted slightly from 101 Cookbooks

Serves 2 to 4

1/2 bunch (6 ounces / 170 grams) dinosaur or lacinato kale, stems removed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 big handfuls of cooked large white beans (like corona, lima, or gigante beans)
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces / 45 grams) walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Scant 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup (1/2 ounce / 15 grams) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks this week -- and all month! -- to Matt Sartwell at Kitchen Arts & Letters.

Photos by Mark Weinberg

Listen Now

Join The Sandwich Universe co-hosts (and longtime BFFs) Molly Baz and Declan Bond as they dive deep into beloved, iconic sandwiches.

Listen Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • cosmiccook
  • Shannon
  • Marsha Tucker
    Marsha Tucker
  • NotTooSweet
  • thefolia
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


cosmiccook January 16, 2020
I have a package of Gigante beans I bought to make the marinated beans that Whole Foods & Fresh Market sell in their olive bar.
I can't find a recipe on this site --or really anywhere that duplicates the beans. CAN you (pretty please) provide me w recipe for them?
Shannon January 15, 2020
Help!! I need instruction on how to work with raw beans. Soaking, cooking etc?
Marsha T. September 17, 2014
great flavor but dry like crumbly dry what should I do differently?
NotTooSweet September 18, 2014
AJerusalemArtichoke (see comments below) suggested adding a tablespoon of coconut oil or a few tablespoons of tomato sauce to keep it moist. I drizzled about one tablespoon of good olive oil over the finished dish before serving - that helped too.
NotTooSweet September 14, 2014
Regarding the recipe - delicious and perfect fall recipe to have with roasted chicken as we did last night. Loved it! However, a word of warning to other novice bean cookers out there.... the instructions on the back of the package may or may not be correct. Like Kristen I could only find large lima beans in my equally unpleasant grocery store. I soaked overnight, drained and rinsed in the morning and put on to cook as per package instructions. Cook time was listed as 1 1/2 to 2 hours to tender at a gentle simmer. Fortunately I checked mine at 45 minutes and found they were already tender. Much longer at that gentle simmer and I would have had a pan of mush. Looking forward to trying more bean recipes this fall and winter (outside of my usual soup recipes). As always, thanks Food52 contributors!
thefolia September 11, 2014
Gigantes are my favorite and I never thought to pan fry them. I will definitely try this with my left over beans and a toast fried in olive oil.
AntoniaJames September 10, 2014
Oh, this looks superb, and so well timed for fall. Bet it would be fantastic with the ultra-fresh, flavorful heirloom cranberry beans I get at Market Hall Produce (and make in huge quantities to freeze, especially for meals like this). And on toast, as shown in the last photo? That seals the deal. ;o)
cosmiccook January 16, 2020
lucky you Antonia! The closest I can get (for the best ones) is Rancho Gordo. Our Whole Foods has them dried but I've NO idea how long they've been in the bin or bagged. Only fresh beans we get in New Orleans are field peas, baby limas.
Jane A. September 10, 2014
Sounds great...will try this way! Have made similar with a little sauteed onion, red pepper and a little browned pancetta (just to satisfy the meat-eater in the family)
rangerab September 10, 2014
@AJerusalemArtichoke do you have the recipe for that stuffed sweet potato? Sounds amazing
MattieK September 10, 2014
You bet I do! I used this one from the Kitchn as a jumping off point: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-stuffed-sweet-potatoes-with-beans-and-greens-recipes-from-the-kitchn-181845

I like to make it with bigger, cooked beans (as in Swanson's recipe) and sometimes added either a tablespoon of coconut oil a few tablespoons of tomato sauce to keep it creamy and not too dry.
rangerab September 10, 2014
Awesome - thank you!! Can't wait to try this...yummm
hardlikearmour September 10, 2014
This topped with a fried egg is on deck for supper tonight. Thanks, Kristen.
carswell September 10, 2014
Yum. I've got a couple of cans of cannellini beans in my pantry right now. And walnuts.
Hayleilei September 10, 2014
this is one of the first recipes i made way back when, when food blogging and beans and greens were still new (at least to me). big nostalgia hit for me, this dish.
however, i don't remember the walnuts and nutmeg. next time. (soon).
Sarah J. September 10, 2014
Fall resolution: Eat this at least once a week. Preferably more.
MattieK September 10, 2014
I started making something like this in January. But I served it stuffed into roasted sweet potatoes. As in: the healthiest, most comforting baked potato you'll ever eat. It got me through many, many cold winter nights last year.