Italian butter beans with cherry tomato confit pairs creamy, buttery (of course) white beans with smoky pancetta, rosemary, and sweet, rich cherry tomato confit for a surprisingly quick and healthy weeknight side dish.
Tomato lovers, this recipe is for you, because I know you need to use up that yummy cherry tomato confit we all can’t stop making during tomato season. Not that that’s hard to do, but if you like beans as much as I do, you’ll find this recipe for Italian butter beans with tomato confit is a worthy use for our favorite summer condiment. (Note: if you don’t have any tomato confit sitting around, I’ve got you covered too. Check the recipe notes for substitutions.)
What are butter beans?
Butter beans are mature lima beans, meaning that they have been left to mature on the vine and become larger and milder than their green-hued counterparts. They are also always dried, unlike lima beans, which are sometimes dried, but also served fresh.
Some companies label them as “large lima beans” instead of butter beans. They have a soft, creamy texture and–you guessed it–a buttery, nutty flavor. They do not have the bitterness that lima beans sometimes have, especially when they are overcooked.
Butter beans are readily available in canned form, and a versatile pantry staple for adding protein, fiber, and nutrition to any meal. They are also easy to find in dried form. If you would like to try cooking them from scratch, Bob’s Red Mill has a good basic butter beans recipe.
How to serve this dish
- This butter beans recipe is a hearty side dish for simple grilled chicken, Greek turkey burgers, or lamb.
- Serve it over sautéed greens accompanied with whole grain bread for a satisfying lunch. Beans and whole grains served together contain all of the amino acids necessary to make up a complete protein.
- These beans are also delicious spooned over grilled bread and served as bruschetta.
Ingredients and substitutions
Butter beans: Canned butter beans are available in most grocery stores. My favorite brand is Bush’s Best Large Butter Beans. The best substitute for butter beans is another soft, white bean such as cannellini beans or white kidney beans.
Pancetta: A couple of thin slices is all that is needed to add some salty, smoky flavor to this recipe. A slice or two of bacon works as well. You can leave the pancetta out if you would like to make this recipe vegetarian.
Aromatics: Shallots, garlic, and carrots are my go-to aromatics for this dish. ⅓ cup diced red onion can be substituted for shallots.
Chicken broth: My favorite store-bought broth is Pacific Foods Organic Free Range Chicken Broth (Low Sodium). If you don't have chicken broth handy, or would like to make this dish vegetarian, vegetable broth or water can be substituted.
Champagne vinegar: Vinegar adds acid and balances out the richness of the dish. You can use white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar if that’s what you have on hand. I don’t recommend regular white vinegar.
Rosemary: Rosemary is delicious in this dish, but you can also use another herb such as thyme or sage.
Tomato Confit: One of my favorite recipes on this blog! My stovetop cherry tomato confit will take you about an hour, but not a lot of effort. If you don’t have a batch on hand, you can also use canned diced tomatoes or, better yet, try these canned cherry tomatoes (ciliegini) from Mutti. I find them at Cost Plus Worldmarket.
Tips to make the perfect Italian butter beans with tomato confit
- When cooking the pancetta, start it off in a cold pan and bring the heat up gradually. This will render the fat out of the pancetta and help disperse the smoky, earthy flavor throughout the dish.
- Make sure you rinse your canned butter beans well before adding them, then taste them to see how salty they are. Some brands of canned beans are very salty!
- When working on a dish with a lot of salty elements, I like to adjust my seasoning with fine sea salt. It is less aggressively salty than kosher salt, which allows a little more room for error when adding salt at the end of cooking.
FAQ: Italian butter beans with tomato confit
Yes. Decades of scientific research has shown that beans are an important source of fiber, protein, and nutrition in a healthy diet. Unfortunately, they’ve been unfairly (and un-scientifically) demonized by a dietary movement or two in recent decades, much like wheat and dairy. But the research on beans is about as clear as it gets; they improve digestion, help manage blood sugar, and lower cholesterol.
Most beans pack a lot of nutrition into their small packages, and butter beans are no exception. A ½ cup serving contains half of your recommended daily fiber, including plenty of insoluble fiber, which helps manage blood sugar after a meal. They provide manganese, iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and antioxidants, as well as 6 grams of protein. Serving butter beans with a whole grain such as whole wheat, semi-pearled farro, or corn provides the amino acids necessary for a complete protein.
Absolutely. But first, a caveat. According to multiple studies, including this one published in The Nutrition Journal, eating beans daily improves digestive health and actually reduces gas and bloating over time. If you aren't already eating beans regularly, eating them daily or almost daily might be your best bet for long term health and comfort.
That said, some people are more sensitive to beans, but there are supplements that can help. I am a big fan of Beano, and always have a bottle of it around. It contains a digestive enzyme that helps break down some of the difficult-to-digest carbohydrates found in beans, which should minimize any gas or bloating you experience.
Prep, storage and reheating
Italian butter beans with tomato confit can be made up to three days ahead and reheated gently on the stovetop over low heat. You can also reheat it slowly in a covered pot in a 325° F oven.
Prepared beans can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to five days. I find the beans begin to break down a bit after the three day mark, but they are still safe to eat.
I love hearing from you!
What’s your favorite way to prepare beans? How did you like this Italian butter beans recipe? Drop me a question, a comment, or a rating and let me know...you’ll make my day! And don’t forget to save and share this recipe by pinning it to Pinterest or saving to Yummly, Whisk, or Flipboard.
Italian Butter Beans with Cherry Tomato Confit
- 1 Colander
- 1 10-inch skillet or sauté pan
- 2 14-oz cans large butter beans drained and rinsed
- 2 ounces thin-sliced or diced pancetta
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large carrot, chopped around ½ cup
- 2 medium shallots, sliced around ½ cup
- 1 tablespoon garlic minced
- ½ cup low sodium chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon champagne or apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon fresh minced rosemary or ½ teaspoon dried
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes optional
- 1 cup tomato confit see notes for substitutions
- fine sea salt and pepper to taste
- Drain and rinse the canned beans. Taste one to see how salty they are and set aside.
- Place the pancetta in a cold skillet and set over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring several times, until crispy. Remove and set aside to cool, then crumble or dice.
- Add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to the drippings in the pan, followed by the shallots and the carrots. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Deglaze the pan with the broth, stirring to scrape up any browned bits left over from the pancetta. Add the pancetta, vinegar, and rosemary, plus several cranks black pepper. If you are using red pepper flakes, add them now. Bring to a vigorous simmer and cook, stirring, until the broth is reduced by half, about 2-3 minutes.
- Gently fold in the beans and the tomato confit and cook for 2-3 more minutes, until everything is heated through.
- Taste and adjust seasoning. There are a lot of salty elements in this dish, so it may not need any additional seasoning.
- The best substitute for canned butter beans is another soft white bean such as cannellini or white kidney beans. Be sure to taste your beans after you rinse them so you know how salty they are.
- Vegetable broth, white wine, or water can be substituted for chicken broth.
- My favorite substitute for cherry tomato confit is these canned cherry tomatoes (ciliegini) from Mutti. I buy them at Cost Plus Worldmarket. Diced fire-roasted tomatoes work as well.
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