From Humble Italian Tradition to Fulfilling, Heart-Healthy Addition
Boasting a long list of health benefits, beans are a great option for warmer weather dishes, like salads and spreads, as well as a hearty addition to winter preparations, often taking the place of meat all together. In this article, we bring you recipes, ideas and a brief history on the little legume with a BIG presence.
By: Meghan Tutolo
Whether featured in bright, summer salads or hearty, cold-weather soups, beans are an important part of Mediterranean cuisine. Modest in their roots, legumes have supplemented Italian meals as economical, protein-rich substitutes for meat for centuries. These days, they are honored for their widespread health benefits. Loosely translated as “humble food,” cucina povera is made up of simple cuisine—grains and produce—yet contain some of the highest nutritional goals set by modern-day dieticians. No wonder the “Mediterranean Diet” is such a hit with food lovers all over the world!
In Italy, beans are used in pasta dishes, leafy salads, mashed and spread atop bruschetta toasts, broth soups like Pasta e Fagioli and thicker stews. Grown throughout the country, in both Northern and Southern, Italy, legumes can be found starring in many regional dishes. Packed with protein and soluble fiber, beans are both delicious and satisfying. In regions of Northern Italy, dried beans were, and continue to be, a satisfying solution to the cold weather, providing an important staple with a longer shelf life, ideal when fresh produce is not available.
But legumes aren’t just a winter treat; in fact, their meaty texture makes them the perfect stand-in for pork, beef or poultry—great for summery days when heavy proteins can seem too filling. Canned legumes are an excellent way to add substance to a cold pasta or greens salad with no cooking involved. Like the garbanzo bean, or chickpea—one of the most popular beans in Mediterranean cuisine—known for its creamy, hearty feature in hummus, as well as its addition to salads, soups and a wide array of entrées, including: pastas, curry stews and, even, pancakes.
The kitchen creations with beans are endless, but we wanted to give you a few of our most recent favorites: