For an Untraditional Twist on Greens & Beans, Add…

February 15, 2017

There are likely as many recipes for greens and beans as there are nonnas in the world. And while each nonna may disagree with the next about the proper green, bean, or process, they likely would all agree on this: Coconut milk, ginger, and spicy, toasted cashews have no place in scarola e fagioli.

Before I make the case for this unconventional take on an Italian peasant dish, it helps to know its unlikely genesis: Bon Appetit’s recipe for ginger cashew chicken curry, whose notes about sambal oelek-toasted cashews drew me in. BA advises making a triple batch of the nuts for snacking purposes while you cook, lest they disappear before needed. (This is good advice.) The simplicity of the recipe, moreover—sauté an onion, add ginger, brown chicken, simmer in milk, garnish with spicy nuts—made me consider a number of variations: Could other proteins, beans, or grains replace the chicken? Could coconut milk, for more flavor, replace the milk? And, if so, could greens or vegetables be added to turn it into a meal?  

Spicy cashews toasted in butter for the win. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

It turns out, yes—to all of this. White beans (farro, too) take surprisingly well to heady flavors. After 20 minutes of simmering, when they begin to break down and become creamy, assuming the sweet, slightly spicy, gingery flavors of the broth. Handfuls of earthy greens, stirred in at the end, along with those addictive cashews, give body to the dish, infusing it with crunch and heat. A squeeze of lime or a splash of vinegar finishes it all off.

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It’s an unorthodox combination for sure, but it works—just don’t make this one for your favorite nonna.  

Photo by Alexandra Stafford

A few tips:

  • The nuts: I’ve used walnuts and cashews and love each, but I can’t imagine a nut that wouldn’t work here. The original recipe calls for sambal oelek, but Sriracha works beautifully. Also, if you use oil in place of the butter, this dish becomes vegan, though there’s something particularly delicious about the butter-toasted nuts.

  • Greens: I’ve used kale and Swiss chard, but any number of greens could work: spinach, escarole, mustard greens. Be sure to slice them finely to ensure they wilt and incorporate into the beans easily.

  • Substitute for white beans: Of course, you could use any other bean. I’ve also had success using farro—be sure to use par-cooked or semi-pearled farro, to ensure it softens in 20 to 30 minutes. If you use farro and add a spoonful each of turmeric, cumin, and coriander, as in this recipe, you’ve got a mash-up of Deb Perelman’s One-Pan Farro and Julia Turshen’s Curried Lentils. It’s a beautiful thing.

Do you have an untraditional take on greens and beans? Tell us in the comments!

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

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I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.