In a Nod to Tuscany

In Italy, Tuscans living in rural areas were once referred to as mangiafagioli, or “bean eaters,” a reference to their consumption of economical bean dishes. The most traditional preparation is an ultrasimple wintry one in which dried cannellini beans are simmered with herbs and garlic until tender and then drizzled with olive oil for serving.

This riff on Tuscan-style beans gets a fuller seafood flavor with a quick concentrated stock from the shrimp shells used to simmer the beans. The shrimp also get cooked with the beans rather than separately, and minced anchovies meld with the sautéed aromatics. While the shrimp flavor the beans, the beans also insulate the shrimp from direct heat so that they stay plump and moist.


To season the shrimp and keep them plump and juicy, brine them briefly, and add them late in the cooking process, cooking them gently. Canned beans and canned tomatoes make this dish fast and doable at any time of year; plus, the liquid from one of the cans of beans lends the stew good body. Plenty of fresh basil and lemon juice and zest provide freshness and nice acidity.

If like us, you have some homemade seafood stock on hand, you can skip Steps 2 through 5 and shave off about 15 minutes. Now that’s a real time saver! And it isn’t yet tomato season, so use canned tomatoes instead of the fresh ones. For ease, and because they maintain their shape due to the addition of calcium chloride, use the diced variety.

We loved how simple, yet tasty this dish was. The final flourish of fresh basil not only adds a nice pop of color, but lends an initial subtle peppery flavor, then evolves into a slightly sweet, aromatic punch. An essential ingredient in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, basil pairs exquisitely with lemon, tomato and garlic, all of which are in this recipe.

Do yourself a favor and make a batch of homemade seafood stock, portioning it out into different sized containers, then freeze them until needed. You’ll thank yourself in the future…


Tuscan Shrimp and Beans

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound large shell-on shrimp (26 to 30 per pound), peeled, deveined, and tails removed, shells reserved (If you have your own seafood stock, buy the shrimp already peeled.)
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced thin
  • 2 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry, and minced
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans (1 can drained and rinsed, 1 can left undrained)
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
  • ¼ cup shredded fresh basil
  • ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice


  1. Dissolve sugar and 1 tablespoon salt in 1 quart cold water in large container. Submerge shrimp in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Remove shrimp from brine and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add shrimp shells and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to turn spotty brown and skillet starts to brown, 5 to 6 minutes.
  3. Remove skillet from heat and carefully add 1 cup water. When bubbling subsides, return skillet to medium heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
  4. Strain mixture through colander set over large bowl. Discard shells and reserve liquid (you should have about 1/4 cup). Wipe skillet clean with paper towels.
  5. Heat 2 tablespoons oil, onion, garlic, anchovies, pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in now-empty skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add 1 can drained beans, 1 can beans and their liquid, tomatoes, and shrimp stock and bring to simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
  7. Reduce heat to low, add shrimp, cover, and cook, stirring once during cooking, until shrimp are just opaque, 5 to 7 minutes.
  8. Remove skillet from heat and stir in basil and lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Transfer to serving dish, drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and serve.


Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

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