They call the Tuscans ‘mangiafagioli’, the bean eaters, because slow cooked beans feature so much in their rustic cooking. It looks like we in the UK are competing for the title, knocking back over half a billion cans of a well-known brand a year.

We love our beans but I’m willing to bet not one of you has cooked them from scratch at home. I can tell you, we’re missing a trick.

Dried beans, haricot, cannellini, borlotti, are great value and very easy to cook. I know the downside is the unfortunate side effects but if you follow my great grandmother’s trick of soaking them overnight and boiling them first with bicarbonate of soda, the problem is solved.

Believe me, beans on toast will never taste the same.


200g dried beans, cannellini, borlotti

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic squashed

2 fresh bay leaves or sprigs fresh rosemary


Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water

Discard water and rinse well

Place in a heavy bottomed casserole pot, cover with cold water, 4 cm above the beans

Add the bicarbonate of soda

Boil fiercely for about 20 minutes, using a tea strainer to remove any scum

Pre-heat oven Gas 2/150C

Strain the beans and rinse in cold water

Return to the washed pot

Cover again with cold water as before

Add the olive oil, garlic and herbs and bring to a simmer. With a tight fitting lid, bake in the slow oven for an hour or so or until the beans are soft to the touch

Allow to cool

To flavour the beans

3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 crushed dried chilli

Prepared beans

Sea salt

1 medium red onion finely sliced

Flat leaf parsley


Choose a wide frying pan.

Drain the baked beans, discarding the herbs and garlic, keeping a little soaking water to add moisture.

Warm the olive oil, the chopped garlic and chilli and sauté for five minutes or so to flavour the oil taking care not to singe the garlic.

Add the beans and coat in the flavoured oil .

Add 2-3 teaspoons sea salt and the sliced onions.

Cook slowly until the onions have started to soften.

Add some of the saved liquid or a further splash of olive oil if needed.

Taste and adjust seasoning.

Finish with 2-3 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley.

Serve warm as a salad, use instead of potatoes or pile on some griddled garlic bread.