Italian Rice and Beans – Riso e Fagioli (Oil Free)

Italian Rice and Beans
Italian Rice and Beans, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow

Here where I live, and I imagine where you live too, schools have been closing, events are being cancelled, and most people are advised to work from home and stay away from large gatherings (where I work, we are down to less than 25 people). It’s called social distancing and it is one of the strategies that can help reduce the impact of COVID-19.

In these times of uncertainty and anxiety many will turn to comfort food (I’ve already seen posts about people getting into their Nutella reserves!). And: many will turn to their pantry for the ingredients. So, this recipe is made for such a day, when you want to make something really comforting and filling with things you likely already have on hand: rice and beans.

The recipe here was inspired by an old Italian favorite called Pasta e Fagioli – a pasta and bean soup/stew that is absolutely delicious. This time around I wanted to replace pasta with rice, and see where we end up. Where things ended up was a really rich, and dense stew/casserole dish, with a lot of rich flavors working in harmony!

I took one shortcut to make putting everything together easier and used canned white beans, also known as cannellini beans. Beans are a great source of plant protein and I always have a good supply of canned beans in my pantry. White (cannellini) beans are a fantastic basic bean, and I use them in many different ways, for example in burgers, pasta sauces, or soups. I also used them to make a marvelous mushroom pâté!

If you have dry beans, please remember to soak them overnight before cooking. I recommend that you cook beans first before using them in this stew. The amount of dry beans you need for this recipe is about 1 to 1 1/2 cup, however I recommend that you soak and cook a full batch (in my house that’s usually 1 lbs (about 500 g)), and use the leftover beans for something else, perhaps one of the recipes I listed above. This will save you some time and help with meal prep and batch cooking.

The dish itself is one-pot – all the ingredients go into a single pot, and the lovely meal comes out. Please note that the pot needs to be oven safe, as you will move the dish from the stove top into the oven. I recommend using a Dutch oven or another heavy and sturdy type of pot. If you don’t have such a thing, you can transfer your stew into an oven safe dish and proceed from there. Please note that the food will be very hot, and you  can burn yourself badly if you are not careful!!!

Finally, you have options when it comes to rice. To keep things authentic, you may want to choose a short grain rice, like Arborio, as this will give you a creamier texture. However, you don’t need to lose any sleep over the rice choice here and use whatever you have on hand. As you can tell from my pictures, I used a very long grain rice known as Basmati rice, which is the staple I have in my pantry.

Note: When combined with rice, beans make a complete protein (meaning includes all the essential amino acids that we need), just in case you were wondering. In general, if you eat a varied plant-based diet, you really don’t need to stress over whether you are getting enough protein and whether it is complete, because the quick answer to this is: Yes, you are! Plants have plenty of protein, and people eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains are all set.

Italian Rice and Beans – Riso e Fagioli (Oil Free)

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup rice, washed and rinsed
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 sweet pepper, diced (any color or type provided it’s not hot; you can also used frozen)
  • 2/3 cup tomato paste
  • 1 14.5 oz (400 g) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 15.5 oz (440 g) can white (cannellini) beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cups water (or vegetable stock if you prefer)
  • Optional toppings: fresh basil, and/or vegan parmesan, and/or nutritional yeast.

What you’ll do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C).
  2. Place the Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the diced onions and dry sauté until soft and slightly browned. You may need to add some water to prevent onions from sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning. Keep stirring! (Note: If you are OK with using oil in your cooking, you can sauté the onion in some olive oil – 1 tablespoon should be sufficient).
  3. Add the diced peppers, and continue sautéing for another 5 minutes, with frequent stirring, until peppers soften.
  4. Once the peppers are softened, add the tomato paste and mix well. Let the tomato paste bloom for 1-2 minutes with frequent stirring.
  5. Add the rice, beans, herbs, water, and diced tomatoes. Stir well and let come to boil, then transfer into the oven and leave in there for 30 minutes.
  6. Take rice and beans out of the oven and enjoy! I recommend topping each plate with some fresh basil, and if you are not entirely oil-free with a drizzle of good olive oil and/or some parmesan (vegan, for those who are vegan or regular if you are a vegetarian or transitioning to plant-based diet), or some nutritional yeast (that’s my guilt-free favorite!!!). A simple side salad will complete this nicely, but if you are out of fresh produce due to social distancing, a pickle may work just as well!

Healthy Asparagus Risotto

Asparagus Risotto, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Healthy Asparagus Risotto, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Spring is in the air, although perhaps not yet on the ground, and when it comes to spring vegetables asparagus is it! If you haven’t enjoyed asparagus before, do give it a try. Asparagus is very easy to make as it tastes really good roasted, or in a soup. It is also one of those risotto-friendly ingredients that blends well with creamy rice to add crunch and earthy flavor.

The path to a really lovely risotto goes through picking the right rice and cooking it with patience and with a lot of stirring. My go-to rice for risottos, as well as for sushi and other rice dishes that need a stickier rice variety, is medium grain rice. This is a point of difference with most risotto recipes out there as they recommend using short grain rice variety called arborio rice. Arborio rice will work really well in this recipe too, so if you have it on hand go for it. The kinds of rice that may not work well here are the long grain variety, like Jasmine or Basmati rice.

Cooking risotto does require lots of stirring, and one trick that I use is to add the liquid in batches to let the rice absorb it before adding more. It takes time, but at the end your risotto will be rich and creamy without needing any butter, cream or parmesan, all common risotto ingredients.

My risotto recipe does use on less-common ingredient, nutritional yeast. If you will be preparing vegan recipes often nutritional yeast is definitely worth getting because it is a common add-on that mimics dairy. In the case of this risotto nutritional yeast acts as a substitute for parmesan cheese.

Healthy Asparagus Risotto

What you’ll need:

1 pound (500 g) green asparagus, chopped

1 yellow onion, diced

1 cup medium grain or short grain rice

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

2-3 cups vegetable stock or water

Cooking spray

Lemon zest, lemon juice (optional)

What you’ll do:

  1. Wash and trim the asparagus. I don’t peel it because I try to get spears that are thin and less woody, but if your asparagus is thick it will need peeling. Cut into approximately 1/2 in (1 to 1.5 cm) bits. You don’t need to be precise here but just think about what your final spoonful will look like and make sure your asparagus bits are small enough to be in harmony with the rice.
  2. Dice the onion into fine dice.
  3. Spray the bottom of a wide and shallow pan with cooking spray. Turn the heat to medium high. Add onions and cook until they soften and start to brown. This will take 4-5 minutes.
  4. Add asparagus and let cook for another 4-5 minutes with occasional stirring.
  5. Add the rice and stir well. Let cook for 1-2 minutes.
  6. Lower the heat down to medium low. Add 1 cup of liquid. Stir well and let the rice soak up the liquid. Give it time and repeat with more liquid. Risotto is definitely one of those dishes that people fear to approach and many articles and posts have been written about how to get to the perfect bowl of risotto and avoid mistakes. Fear not, because all you really need to do is hang around your pot, watch your rice and add the liquid when the rice tells you its thirsty. The amount of rice in this recipe can take anywhere between 2 and 4 cups of liquid. You also might want to start by adding one cup at a time for first 2 cups and then decrease to 1/4 cup of liquid at a time. Keep going until the rice is soft but not mushy, a shade softer than al dente.
  7. Turn the heat off and sprinkle with nutritional yeast. Mix everything together and let stand for 5 minutes.
  8. Sprinkle with lemon zest and a dash of lemon juice just before serving!
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