When I say I’m a fan of canned beans, I mean I’m a stan of canned beans. A friend once joked that I could write a cookbook called Doing New Things With a Tin of Beans, which I very nearly mistook for a challenge. Nutritionally, they’re a powerhouse, but it’s their versatility that truly gives me life. I recently figured out that you can blend an entire tin of cannellini beans to make a silky-smooth double cream replacement, ideal for glossy pasta sauces such as this vegan penne alla vodka. Borlotti, on the other hand, are gorgeous and meaty when mashed with diced mushrooms and used like mince.
Borlotti bean Swedish “meatballs” (pictured above)
Don’t be tempted to mash the beans to oblivion – you want to have a chunky texture – so I’d advise against using a food processor, if you can help it. A fork or potato masher should do the job.
Prep 15 min
Cook 45 min
For the ‘meatballs’
1 x 400g tin borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
60g panko breadcrumbs
50ml boiling water
2 tbsp vegan bouillon, or stock powder
2 tsp vegan gravy granules (I use red Bisto, but strict vegans may prefer an alternative)
1 tsp Marmite
25g vegan butter or margarine
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
85g shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
½ tsp fine sea salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp allspice
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Finely chopped parsley, to serve
Lingonberry or cranberry sauce, to serve
For the gravy
40g vegan butter
3 tbsp plain white flour
380ml vegetable stock
150ml unsweetened and unflavoured soy milk
In a medium bowl, mash the beans with a fork until each one is just broken up and the mixture is chunky; don’t mash it to a paste. Add the breadcrumbs and mix to combine.
Put the boiling water, stock powder, Bisto and Marmite in a measuring jug and whisk smooth.
Set a medium frying pan over a medium-low heat and add the butter. Once melted, add the onion and fry gently, stirring, for two minutes. As the chopped onion turns translucent, add the mushrooms, fry, stirring, for eight to 10 minutes more, then add the salt, pepper and spices, stir to combine and take off the heat.
Add the onions to the mashed bean mix, along with the Bisto and Marmite, and stir to combine. With lightly wet hands, form the mixture into tablespoon-sized balls and put on a plate.
Put the frying pan back on a medium heat and add the vegetable oil. Fry the balls in two batches for about 10 minutes each, turning them regularly, until lightly browned all over, then transfer to a plate while you make the gravy.
Return the frying pan to a medium-low heat and add the butter. Once melted, whisk in the flour until you have a smooth paste. Add the stock bit by bit, whisking as you go, until smooth. Bring to a gentle simmer, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens into a rich gravy. Still whisking, add the soy milk in a slow, steady stream and, once the gravy is smooth and creamy, turn the heat to low and return the meatballs to the pan. Leave to simmer gently for a few minutes, stirring often to prevent the gravy from sticking, then serve with mashed potato or pappardelle, a sprinkle of fresh parsley and some lingonberry or cranberry sauce.
Penne alla vodka with cannellini cream
You’ll need a high-speed blender to get a really smooth cannellini cream. If you don’t have one, get the beans as smooth as you can with a stick blender or a food processor, then pass through a fine sieve to catch any tough skins.
Prep 10 min
Cook 20 min
1 x 400g tin cannellini beans, undrained
100ml unsweetened and unflavoured soy milk
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and very finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 tbsp tomato puree
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp chilli flakes, plus extra to serve
Salt and black pepper
300g dried penne
1 small handful basil leaves, to finish
Put the beans and their liquid in a high-speed blender with the soya milk, blend until very smooth and creamy, then set aside.
Put a medium saucepan on medium-low heat and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onion and fry, stirring regularly, for three to five minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and fry for two minutes more, taking care not to let it brown.
Add the tomato puree, sugar, passata, vodka and chilli flakes, stir to combine, then bring up to a simmer. Cover the pan and leave the sauce to simmer for eight to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t catch.
Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil, add the penne and cook according to the packet instructions, until al dente.
Once the sauce has reduced and thickened, stir in the cannellini cream, season to taste and keep warm.
Once al dente, drain the pasta, reserving 150ml of its cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce, turn the heat down low and toss to combine. Cook, tossing and stirring often, for two minutes, adding the reserved pasta water as required to loosen the sauce (you may not need all the water; use just enough to bring the sauce to your desired consistency).
Serve with an extra sprinkle of chilli flakes or freshly ground black pepper, and a scattering of torn fresh basil.