This delicious Tuscan Bean Stew is such an easy one-pot dinner. Packed with flavours of Italy, it can be made on the hob or slow cooker.
Oh, to be in Tuscany right now, soaking up the sunshine in olive groves, vineyards, medieval castles, fields of sunflowers and Renaissance cities.
But the next best thing? Grab a glass of chianti, and get this Tuscan Bean Stew simmering on the stove. Serve in the sunshine with a crisp green salad, sourdough on the side to mop up the juices, and your tastebuds at least will be half way to Italy.
Tuscan food is all about simplicity. Largely based on legumes, fresh vegetables, olives, mushrooms, good quality olive oil, freshly-baked bread.... quality is all-important.
I won't claim that this bean stew is in any way an authentic Tuscan recipe, but instead a simple version of an everyday dish that is easy to make with storecupboard ingredients and fresh vegetables.
📝 What you need
Olive oil Every Italian stew begins with a good slug of olive oil. Make sure you use a cooking olive oil, not extra-virgin which burns at a lower temperature. And, quite frankly, it is a waste of good-quality, peppery extra-virgin stuff to cook with it - save it for dipping your bread in and drizzling over the finished stew.
Red onion, leek, carrot, celery An aromatic mix of onion, celery and carrot known as 'soffrito' is often called the 'Holy Trinity' of Italian cooking - a traditional base for many soups, stews and sauces. I've added leeks and garlic here too, for a bit more oomph. Another nice touch is to add finely chopped parsley stalks, then chop the leaves into the stew right at the end.
Any Italian grandmother would tell you that you must cook your soffrito gently - low and slow. You are aiming to soften the vegetables and release their flavours, not to brown them or make them at all crisp or browned.
Garlic As usual in my recipes, it is entirely up to you whether you peel and crush fresh garlic cloves, or use a jar/tube of ready-chopped garlic. Just don't skimp on it - the garlicky flavour is one of the heroes of this simple Tuscan bean stew.
Red pepper adds a lovely sweetness, and a different texture to complement the beans.
Borlotti beans and Cannellini beans I use tinned beans here as I'm never organised enough to soak and cook them myself. But if you are - fantastic! Give yourself a pat on the back and adjust cooking times accordingly.
If you can't find borlotti and/or cannellini beans, any other type will do - haricot, butter beans, kidney, black-eye or black beans. Or you could use one tin of lentils and one tin of beans if you prefer.
Passata is another classic Italian ingredient - sieved tomatoes. It is so cheap to buy and easily available in supermarkets, but if you don't have any to hand, tinned chopped tomatoes would be a good alternative.
Vegetable stock powder I usually use Marigold Bouillon Powder, but do always check labels as some vegetable stocks contain milk.
Dried oregano is a classic Italian herb, and one of the only dried herbs I use. You could mix and match it here with dried thyme, which goes particularly well with a tomato-based stew like this, or marjoram and fennel seeds which are also a taste of Tuscany.
Brown sugar When cooking with tomatoes I always add something sweet to offset the acid, and round off the flavours. If you don't want to use brown sugar, use whatever your preferred sweetener is - maple syrup, date syrup or agave would all work fine too.
Balsamic vinegar is entirely optional but does add a lovely deep, savoury flavour to this stew.
Baby spinach or curly kale add a splash of green - just make sure you remove any tough stalks as they cook in the stew for a very short time, to keep their colour and texture.
It up to you whether to make this beany stew on the hob / stove or in a slow cooker.
If you're making it on the hob, a good, sturdy casserole dish with a lid is ideal. My trusty Le Creuset casserole gets used almost every day in our house, and twelve years later (it was a wedding present!), it looks just the same as it did the day we got it. (I can't say the same about me or Mr F, sadly!!).
If you're thinking of making this in a slow cooker instead, my favourite is this Crockpot with a hinged lid and digital timer. You can pick up a basic slow-cooker very cheaply these days, or look out on second hand sites as they are often being given away hardly used.
👩🏽🍳 Variations on your Tuscan Bean Stew
There are all sorts of ways you can vary this Tuscan stew to keep it interesting every time you cook it! How about....
- Make it spicy by adding ½ tsp chilli flakes in step 6, or else using a fresh chilli at the same time as the red pepper. Smoked paprika would be a lovely addition too, for some smoky flavour.
- Make it herby by stirring through a big handful of chopped fresh herbs just before serving. I think parsley and basil together are just perfect with this, but experiment with your own herb combinations.
- Make it lentil-y by replacing the cannellini beans with a tin of green or brown lentils.
❄️ Freezing and Batch Cooking
I batch-cook this stew all the time, it is such a lovely thing to have on standby in the freezer and an easy batch-cook project for a rainy weekend. In fact I think the stew is even better when the flavours have had a chance to mellow - a portion saved in the fridge for the next day's lunch is always better than first time around!
The stew freezes well in individual portions, however I would suggest leaving out the spinach or kale as they can go a bit slimy when defrosted. But if you have some to hand, just stir through the stew as you are defrosting it.
Freezing can also affect seasoning, so taste before serving as you may need to add a little more salt and black pepper.
🤔 What else can I make with tinned beans?
Regular readers will know that I use a lot of tinned beans in my recipes - they are so cheap, versatile and packed with nutrients.... what's not to love?!
Some of my favourites tinned bean recipes include:
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Tuscan Bean Stew with garlic & oregano
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 red onion
- 1 leek
- 3 cloves garlic (or 2 tsp ready-chopped garlic from a jar or tube)
- 1 large carrot
- 2 sticks celery
- 1 red pepper
- 400 g tin borlotti beans
- 400 g tin cannellini beans
- 500 g passata
- 250 ml water
- 1 tsp vegetable stock powder
- 1 tsp dried oregano (and/or dried thyme)
- 1 tsp brown sugar (or maple syrup, date syrup or agave)
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
- handful baby spinach or curly kale
To make on the hob / stovetop:
- Heat the olive oil in a deep lidded frying pan or casserole.
- Finely chop the onion and leek and cook gently for 3-4 minutes until starting to soften.
- Meanwhile, peel and finely chop the carrot, trim and chop the celery, and peel and crush the garlic cloves. Add to the pan and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
- Trim and slice the red pepper and add to the pan. Season well with salt and black pepper.
- Drain and rinse the borlotti beans and cannellini beans, and tip both into the pan.
- Add the passata and water (you can just refill the empty passata carton half way with water, to save measuring this separately). Then add the stock powder, oregano, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Bring to the boil then cover with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for a further 10 minutes or until the sauce has reduced and is thick and glossy.
- Remove any thick stalks from the spinach or kale, then stir through the stew for the last two minutes of cooking. Taste and adjust seasoning if required. Serve with steamed green vegetables or a crisp side salad and sourdough bread.
To make in a slow cooker:
- Follow instructions 1-4 above, then tip the softened vegetables into your slow-cooker.
- Drain and rinse the tinned beans and add to the slow-cooker, followed by the passata, water, stock powder, oregano, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar.
- Cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 5-6 hours, adding the spinach or kale as above for the last 10 minutes of cooking time. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.