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The first thing you’ll notice about this stew is that you can make it in about the time it would normally take for you to sauté greens. The reputation of stews and soups doesn't usually go this way—they simmer lazily; they develop flavor over time. But nope, not this one.
What gives? How does such a cozy, well-melded stew emerge from a pot in which the ingredients have barely met?
This brings us to the second thing you’ll notice about this stew: The broth is made from a second-string ingredient that other recipes tend to leave behind—the discarded juice from canned tomatoes.
For perfectly good reasons, lots of recipes call for one can tomatoes, drained—some pastas don’t need saucier sauces; some soups want to be more chicken than tomato. And chef Missy Robbins is here to tell you to ignore those recipes. Or at least read between the lines a little.
In her cookbook Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner… Life, Robbins uses the drained juice alone—no tagalong tomatoes—in a number of places: in saucy chickpeas with cauliflower and preserved lemon, in turkey bolognese, and in this quick beans and greens stew. And while it's not uncommon to see recipes that call for using whole cans of tomatoes, juice and all, this is the first time I’ve seen this half of the equation honored in its own right.
The juice that canned tomatoes swim in is typically the perfect thickness for becoming a hearty soup or stew right out of the gates (though brands can vary a bit, and some will need to be thinned with a little water). It comes from tomatoes that are canned ripe and in-season, so flavor doesn't need to be coaxed out slowly—it's already there. At times, the juice might be seasoned with a bit of salt and basil or the occasional fire-roasted or chile-spiked variation. None of these are unwelcome in soup.
If you’re irked right now that you want to make this stew and don’t have a stash of leftover juice on hand—don’t worry, Robbins and I thought of that! She also allows for tomato passata (also labelled strained tomatoes), a similarly thick, rich tomato puree sold by the bottle or box.
Or you can do as I’ve been doing lately: Buy the cans of tomatoes for the juice, then hang on to the tomatoes for dinner later in the week (or freeze them). Make it the excuse you needed to make pappa al pomodoro with those dead bread nubs in the freezer or Portuguese Cataplana or slow-cooked Scrambled Eggs Patia.
Either way, now we know: When the recipe says “can of tomatoes, drained,” what it’s really saying is “drained into a Tupperware and parked in the fridge or freezer until you can cook something good with it.”
- 1 large bunch Tuscan kale or 2 small ones
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons red chile flakes
- 2 cups juice from two 28-ounce cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes (save the tomatoes for another use) or tomato passata
- 1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Photos by Julia Gartland
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].