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Up until a few years ago, I didn’t have much confidence in canned food. Even plain vegetables were hard to see, or taste, the good in. From bland carrots, to mushy green beans, spongy sliced mushrooms, preservative-laden cream of chicken soup….. my nose was turned up in the air.
But as I began to learn more about food; specifically how it was being grown, the faces behind the farms, and the process to get it onto our plate, I realized that not all things in cans are alike. Canning, when done in a quality matter, enables farmers to preserve their food in pristine condition, very quickly, with little loss in nutrients. And in fact, home canning, which we’ve praised for years, is literally the same thing. We just think of it differently because it’s not done by our grandmother’s hands, or put up in Ball jars.
So now instead of my nose turned up, I say a silent “thank goodness” when I open the pantry and spot a few cans. Always Muir Glen organic tomatoes, and always beans (I can never cook them myself as perfectly….), wholesome, basically fresh, pantry staples. Yes, that I’m calling that a thing.
You see this past May, I worked with Muir Glen on a freelance project, cooking and photographing for their new website. 21 recipes, in 4 days. I ate a LOT of their tomatoes, in just about every form. My cupboards, floors, and towels were covered in tomatoes. But if there was any kind of test I could think of, to put a canned product through so many different applications, this was it. And although they’d been a brand I’d been buying for quite awhile, I quickly learned that these tomatoes were on a different scale of quality and taste. When one of the recipes was a “fresh” salsa, using their fire-roasted tomatoes, I thought to myself, okay, there is no way this can compare to regular tomatoes. Wrong. So wrong. Juicy, vibrant, not mushy, several layers of flavor…. so good. In fact I brought the salsa to a neighborhood block party and fooled everyone there too.
I learned so much about their process during that project as well. And I have no doubt the reason they’re so damn delicious is because they go from ripened on the vine, to can in 8 hours. Grown in the long, hot California summer days, the family farms dedicating every ounce of love and care to those red gems growing out in their fields. This is their livelihood, and their passion. And I am grateful to be their partner.
Cans of tomatoes, beans, coconut milk, and a few others… these are the friends that help me build a nourishing weeknight meal with other seasonal ingredients I have on hand. Even if that’s just a lonely bunch of kale, such as in this cozy gluten-free gratin.
Because let’s be honest. Anything with a crunchy, buttery topping that’s snug in a pan is the definition of comforting. This wholesome, vegetarian gratin (or casserole?) is a little different because the diced tomatoes roast in a bit of butter, garlic, and thyme for about 25 minutes, really infusing them with flavor and depth. Meanwhile kale is sautéed on the stove top until silky, then mixed in with the butter beans to the now “fancy” tomatoes. And finally sprinkled with gluten-free breadcrumbs (I take the end pieces of gluten-free bread that are sitting in the freezer, and blitz them in a food processor.) tossed in olive oil, and popped back in the oven until crispy, crunchy, golden brown.
I love all the different textures: plump, juicy tomatoes, soft and mild beans, and silky, sturdy kale…. I love all the different colors. I love the ease.
A weeknight champion because of two cans, and a few other staple ingredients. I’m not leaving this bandwagon anytime soon.
Inspiration came from two places.
The marinated Italian butter beans (large and white) sitting in the olive bar at Whole Foods, that I have to buy a little tub of, every single time. They’re so tender and buttery, literally, with the olive oil and oregano…. flavor bombs.
And then the kale and tomato combination was sparked by a dish I was served this summer, that had me put my fork down after one bite and say, “Whoa, why is this kale so much better than any other cooked kale I’ve ever had?”
It was incredibly soft and tender, but still held its bold green color. The chef’s secret was sautéing the kale with olive oil & very finely chopped tomatoes (that basically disintegrated) so their acid worked its way into the kale making it incredibly silky. And also brightened it’s flavor. Genius.
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Um… Wow. This was surprisingly awesome. I couldn’t find butter beans anywhere so I used a can of cannellini beans. So delicious!
I’m so glad you liked it, Rachel! And yes, any type of white bean is a good sub!
I’ve already made this three times! I can’t believe how delicious this vegetarian dish is! I think this should be way more popular.
so glad you like it, Katelyn!
playing catch up and how I seriously love this dish. the ease here, yes – but the nourishment as well. love the idea and the flavors and see it in my cold weathered future. xo
oh hi danielle! i feel like this gratin would be in your wheelhouse. could change throughout the seasons too! xo
Yes agree, canned tomatoes can be a lifesaver, especially as the seasons turn cold! What a beautifully photographed casserole- so cozy and nourishing too. So many of my favorite things in one big dish. :) That smattering of crispy breadcrumbs on top adds the perfect finishing touch.
Yum!! This looks and sounds amazing!!
My kind of dish :)
It looks incredible! I don’t usually like using canned foods, but some brands are worth it! Besides, it’s good to have a handy shortcut every now and then!
Wonderful recipe, looks absolutely fabulous. Can’t wait to try it soon!!
This is pure comfort and I love every detail of it. Muir Glen tomatoes really do set themselves apart – my mom introduced them to me awhile back and I was sold. :) Also, that kale/tomato method is so smart! xoxo
aw, so fun to hear how you were introduced! moms know best. xo
Anything with kale is a home run for me! This looks fabulous. I would probably do kidney beans instead because that is THE ONLY kind of bean that my picky husband will eat. He’s worse than our three little boys – weirdo :).
I feel the same way about canned stuff. It took me forever to find brands that I trusted and actually liked. We pickle a lot from our own garden too tho! That’s just pure awesomeness right?
I mostly stay away from canned food but tomato is just so better when canned. It adds that gorgeous rich color. Love that gratin recipe. Sounds quite robust !
This looks divinely comforting! Love this healthified Minnesota casserole :)
And I am also obsessed with those Whole Foods butter beans- I could have those with crackers and olives for a snack every day.
I love a good can of tomatoes! I canned a few jars this summer just to see how home-canned compares to the ones I normally buy. I don’t think I’ve seen the Muir Glen ones in my grocery store (I’m in Canada), but will look out for them next time as well :) The gratin looks so comforting and delicious. Looking forward to more canned tomato recipes.
I’ve long turned my nose up at canned veggies too, but there’s just no beating good canned tomatoes! This looks so perfectly suited for fall and the ‘casserole’ weather as I like to call it :)
Right? They are so versatile. And in the dead of winter when all you crave is a good tomato, rather than getting the pale pink, mushy ones shipped in from who knows where… all you need is the can! xo
This is such a dreamy pan of comfort food!! I was a canned food snob until I had kids…then I quickly learned that canned beans and tomatoes were my best friends in the kitchen. Fast and hearty weeknight dinners in our house almost always require breaking out my can opener. Totally trying this gratin soon!
I was the same way about canned food! But you are absolutely right. Not all canned food is created equal. Can’t wait to give this a try!