beans and polenta

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Borlotti Beans in Tomato Sauce with Creamy Polenta

From the book Heirloom Beans by and
Serves 4 to 6

Culinate editor’s note: The polenta recipe here will just serve four, while the beans and tomato sauce are quite generous. Double the polenta recipe to make sure there’s enough to go around.


This is a complete winter’s meal. It’s hearty and vegetarian, but if you want to include Italian sausage, cook it separately, slice it, and serve on top of the finished dish. For a streamlined process, make the tomato sauce and the beans ahead and heat them together while you cook the polenta.


Tomato sauce

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
½ medium yellow onion, chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
¼ tsp. red-pepper flakes
~ Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 small carrot, peeled and shredded
~ One can (28 ounces) whole San Marzano tomatoes or plum tomatoes
2 cups cooked and drained borlotti beans (about ⅓ pound dried beans; see Note, below)
cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


4 cups water
1 tsp. salt
1 cup polenta
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnishing
~ Freshly ground pepper


  1. Make the sauce: In a small Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, the fennel, the garlic, 2 teaspoons of the oregano, the red-pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Sauté until the vegetables are soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add the carrot and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stirring to break them up with a wooden spoon. Add another pinch of salt.
  2. Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, at the barest simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are reduced and beginning to separate from the oil, at least 2 hours or up to 3 hours. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oregano and salt and pepper to taste. The sauce can be made up to this point 1 or 2 days ahead. Let cool and refrigerate.
  3. Make the polenta: About 45 minutes before serving, bring the water to a boil in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the salt and, whisking continuously, slowly pour the polenta into the water in a thin stream. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring nearly constantly with a long-handled wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens, the grains soften, and the polenta begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, 40 to 45 minutes. Stir in the butter and ½ cup of the Parmesan, and season with pepper. Cover to keep warm.
  4. Add the beans to the tomato sauce and warm them together over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Stir in the parsley about 5 minutes before serving.
  5. Spoon the polenta into warmed shallow bowls and make a well in the center of each serving. Spoon the tomato sauce into the well. Garnish with Parmesan cheese.


This dish is best made with a rich, creamy bean. If borlotti are unavailable, try French horticulture, or wren’s egg, beans.

Culinate editor’s note: To cook dried beans, Sando and Barrington recommend the following: Put the beans into a large pot and cover with an inch of water. Let sit for two to six hours. If you wish, sauté an aromatic mirepoix of diced onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, and add this to the beans just before cooking them. When ready to cook the beans, add water to the pot so the beans are still covered by an inch of water. Bring to a boil and cook for five minutes, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for a few hours, until the beans are cooked. Add salt to taste; the authors suggest about 2 teaspoons salt per pound of dried beans.

This content is from the book Heirloom Beans by Vanessa Barrington and Steve Sando.

There are 28 comments on this item
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14% recommend this recipe
1. by giovannaz on Dec 5, 2008 at 11:49 AM PST

Beans, polenta, and tomatoes...I am so there!

2. by Nicholas on Dec 5, 2008 at 12:14 PM PST

The combination of beans, polenta, and cheese makes this the perfect comfort food. Plus, since it’s vegetarian, I can pretend that it’s good for me. :)

3. by foodgeek on Dec 5, 2008 at 1:38 PM PST

This one’s on my “to-cook” list as of about 30 seconds ago. Fennel!

4. by Tamar on Dec 5, 2008 at 2:03 PM PST

I love Beans, Polenta and Fennel, therefore I must love this recipe.

Thank you.

5. by Ali on Dec 5, 2008 at 8:30 PM PST

Mmm, polenta- my family’s favorite. Totally have to make this one soon!

6. by Francine on Dec 6, 2008 at 4:47 PM PST

this sounds nice and hearty - perfect to dig into while the snow falls

7. by LOVESTOBAKEJUSTLAZY on Dec 6, 2008 at 6:04 PM PST

This actually looks good and easy to make. I do have a question though, when I go to the store they have regular beans and vegetarian beans..aren’t all beans vegetarian to start with? and how does a bean become vegetarian then?

8. by nesta67 on Dec 6, 2008 at 7:23 PM PST

This sounds wonderful! I’ll have to give it a try.

9. by Kelly F on Dec 6, 2008 at 8:50 PM PST

Although I try to keep my husband away from the beans (I think we all know why haha), they are just too good, and healthy, to stay away from long. This recipe looks delicious!

10. by viva333 on Dec 7, 2008 at 6:08 AM PST

It’s not often you see a recipe with yummy borlotti polenta too...I’ll be making this tonight.

11. by kigallegos on Dec 7, 2008 at 8:38 AM PST

I would never think to add fennel to a tomato sause. I am trying this tonight!

12. by Katie on Dec 7, 2008 at 9:21 AM PST

Have some great new polenta -- can’t wait to try this!

13. by JudyZ on Dec 7, 2008 at 3:27 PM PST

This dish sounds so delicious.

14. by bkh61959 on Dec 7, 2008 at 10:40 PM PST

I am a big fan of tomato and cheese in recipes, I am sure I will like this one, thanks

15. by AsTheNight on Dec 8, 2008 at 4:30 AM PST

Creamy beans, sweet tomato sauce and buttery polenta - what’s not to love? Thanks for another addition to my “try this recipe” list!

16. by JoanK on Dec 8, 2008 at 5:56 AM PST

This really looks good. I have been living on bean dishes for about a year now and love them.

17. by AICORP on Dec 8, 2008 at 6:18 AM PST

sounds like a nice little twist on a classic Italian dish. I’ll have to give this a shot.

18. by paryjeja on Dec 8, 2008 at 6:34 AM PST

This sounds very very good. I like the Italian side of it.

19. by pancak on Dec 8, 2008 at 8:02 AM PST

This sounds delicious and warming. I like that it can be made vegetarian or not.

20. by dianesprous on Dec 8, 2008 at 9:44 AM PST

This looks really good

21. by starsmom on Dec 8, 2008 at 9:46 AM PST

It’s very cold here today, and we will soon be snowed I’m going to the grocery store in 2 minutes to get the ingredients for this delicious-sounding’s perfect for a winter’s day in Minnesota!

22. by bndraldy on Dec 8, 2008 at 10:19 AM PST

This recipe looks delicious - and so nice and hearty! Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this giveaway!

23. by pinkyga on Dec 8, 2008 at 11:51 AM PST

Just looking at the photo makes me hungry. Can’t wait to try this! Great giveaway.

24. by Caroline Cummins on Dec 11, 2008 at 2:06 PM PST

Lovestobakejustlazy: Dried beans sold in bulk should be vegetarian by default. Canned beans, however, may have been cooked with meat.

25. by Syd on Jan 24, 2009 at 7:40 PM PST

Thank you! Thank you! Thank You!

I’d bought several bags of various beans and one of polenta from Ayer’s Farm at the farmers market in a frenzy of “this is just so cool” since there were all these beans I’d never even heard of before (and I like to think I’m one of the more educated food consumers).

But then they just sat there in my pantry as I was frozen in fear to do anything with either, not knowing what to make with them that would justify their much higher price. Being mostly vegan now too complicated the issue a bit in finding an appropriate dish.

Now I have an idea for both as well as a book to look for to explore more.


Thanks too for the Culinate newsletter highlighting this post this week again so I didn’t miss it.

26. by Hilary Cable on Feb 11, 2009 at 9:35 PM PST

I made this dish over the cold, rainy weekend with yellow eye beans from Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Food (didn’t have borlotti beans) and it was fabulous! Here are some pictures. The carrot softens the acidity of the tomatoes perfectly. It was warm, filling and satisfying.

27. by Kathryn H on Feb 24, 2009 at 10:39 AM PST

I think this will be a big hit at our monthly potluck group next weekend!

28. by Eugenia on Feb 25, 2009 at 6:39 AM PST

Bean love!

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