I Tried Smitten Kitchen’s Pizza Beans, and It Was So Good It Won Over My Whole Family

published Feb 18, 2023
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Wooden spoon in a dish of pizza beans
Credit: Stephanie Ganz

What’s in a name? In the recipe for Pizza Beans from her cookbook Smitten Kitchen Every Day, Deb Perelman makes a strong case for getting the name of a dish exactly right. Instead of “Tomato-Braised Gigante Bean Gratin,” Perelman dubbed the dish “Pizza Beans” for her discerning then-Kindergarten-age son and he, otherwise wary of beans, happily dug in.

I figured, if this trick worked for Perelman, there would be a chance of it working for me and, specifically, my two kids, both of whom have a pretty standoffish relationship toward much of the legume family. Not just the name, but also the act of enrobing beans in a comforting, lovingly cooked tomato sauce and blanketing it with gooey cheese, I felt, would be sure to win them over. And reader, it sure did. 

How to Make Smitten Kitchen’s Pizza Beans

If you’ve ever made a tomato sauce from scratch, this recipe will feel very familiar. After preheating the oven to 475°F, begin by sautéing onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil in a Dutch oven until fragrant and just browned, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute before scraping down the pan with wine or a bit of stock, and then adding kale and canned tomatoes. Pre-cooked or canned beans go in next, and then the entire thing gets covered in a blanket of cheese — mozzarella and parmesan, to be exact.

After about 15 minutes in a hot oven, this bubbling masterpiece is ready for primetime. Give the molten bean-y goodness a minute to cool and a sprinkling of chopped parsley before spooning out portions and serving with plenty of bread for the inevitable dipping that’s going to happen.

Get the recipe: Pizza Beans from Smitten Kitchen

Credit: Stephanie Ganz

My Honest Review

I wasn’t surprised at all by how warmly comforting this dish was. I could tell by the photos that I was going to want to dive in and stay there for a while, and that’s exactly what happened. Perelman’s kale-laced tomato sauce is straightforward and solid — the kind of canvas that would be equally delicious on pasta or served over creamy polenta, but when beans enter the chat, the whole dish exceeds even my high expectations and announces itself as a new weeknight classic.

PRO TIP: And while we’re on the topic of weeknight dinners, I should point out that you can cut out six ingredients and about 20 minutes of cooking time if you start with your favorite jarred marinara sauce instead of making the sauce from scratch. (I’m a Rao’s devotee, but I’ve tried this with Carbone’s marinara, and it works beautifully as well.) To do so, simply heat the sauce of your choice in a Dutch oven over medium heat, and add chopped kale, cooking for about 10 minutes until the kale gets soft, and then add the beans and proceed as usual.

If we’re going to invoke the holy term of “pizza,” then we should also be open to adding some other pizza ingredients. A few slices of pepperoni within or on top of the cheese (or both, you glutton!) would be very welcome here. Perelman also suggests adding some cooked, crumbled sausage, which I can imagine turns this into an even more sustaining meal. I’d love to see sautéed mushrooms in the mix or even a few pockets of ricotta, which would take this to more of a baked ziti place, and that’s a fine place to be.

Credit: Stephanie Ganz

Tips for Making Smitten Kitchen’s Pizza Beans

  1. Give the sauce a little time to reduce after adding the crushed tomatoes and before baking, or the final product will be a little on the soupy side.
  2. Dried beans are delightful, but this is a perfect spot to use those cans in your pantry. If you don’t have gigante beans, cannellini beans will work, and I bet a chickpea would be great here too. 
  3. Add your favorite pizza toppings to make Pizza Beans even pizza-ier! Sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers — all invited to this party!

Get the recipe: Pizza Beans from Smitten Kitchen

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