Tuscans are commonly known as mangiafagioli, or bean eaters, and when you simmer cannellini beans on top of the stove and then finish them in the oven with a fresh tomato ragù, you’ll understand why. The dish is saucy and comforting—have plenty of good bread on hand—with welcome bursts of acidity from the extra tomatoes scattered on top of the casserole. Grape tomatoes tend to have a sweeter, more concentrated flavor than cherry tomatoes.
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- 1 lb dried cannellini or Great Northern beans, picked over and rinsed
- 2 pints grape tomatoes (about 1 lb)
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 celery rib, thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 3 thyme sprigs
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Soak beans in water to cover by 2 inches overnight (8 hours) or quick-soak (see cooks’ note, below), then drain.
Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a 5- to 6-qt pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and briskly simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally and skimming foam, until beans are very tender, 40 to 50 minutes. Reserve 2 cups cooking water, then drain beans.
Halve 1 cup tomatoes lengthwise and set aside. Pulse remaining tomatoes in a food processor until almost smooth.
Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in middle.
Cook onion, celery, and garlic in oil and 1 Tbsp butter with 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper in a 12-inch heavy skillet, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomato purée, thyme, sugar, 3/4 tsp salt, and reserved 2 cups bean-cooking water and simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Whisk in remaining Tbsp butter, then stir in beans.
Transfer to a 3-qt shallow baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with cheese, then scatter tomato halves over top. Bake, covered tightly with foil, until liquid is reduced and beans are saucy but not soupy, 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand, covered, 10 minutes before serving (beans will continue to absorb liquid).
- To quick-soak beans, cover with water by 2 inches in a 5- to 6-qt heavy pot and bring to a boil, then boil 1 minute. Remove from heat and cover, then soak 1 hour. Drain, discarding water.
- Beans can be cooked 1 day ahead. Cool in liquid, then chill.
- Tomato ragù can be made 1 day ahead and chilled.
- Dish can be assembled (but not baked) 8 hours ahead and chilled.