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Tomato-Braised Butter Bean Gratin (Fagioli Casserole!)

Beans, beans the magical fruit, the more you eat them, the more…  you will fall madly and deeply in love with BEANS!!  We wanted to create a hearty fall casserole, replacing the usual pasta with something new, something hearty enough to be a meal in and of itself, and BEANS (Fagioli in Italian!) fit the bill – perfect for a rustic hearty casserole, specifically, a Butter Bean casserole!  (For a meaty version, see sausage add-in below.)

2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, small diced
2 stalks celery, small diced
1 large carrot (or 2 regular carrots), small diced
Salt & Pepper to taste (and red pepper flakes if desired!)
1-2 loose cups kale, well chopped, ribs removed (we used Lacinato kale)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white or red wine, (we used red)
1 Jar Due Cellucci Sauce – Traditional, Tomato Basil (or Arrabbiata for spicy)
4 cans of Butter Beans (rinsed and drained)
3/4 cup low sodium vegetable broth or water
3/4 cup of shredded Mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
Fresh Basil or Parsley for garnish

NOTE: We love spicy food – but feel free to omit (or kick up) the cayenne or red peppers if desired.

OPTION:  For a MEATY VERSION, mix in 2-3 large Sweet or Spicy Italian sausage links, well chopped and sauté them along with the initial vegetables (Step 2 below)

Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

1. Chop all vegetables.

2. In a deep sauté pan, braiser, or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil on medium-high.  Add the onion, celery, and carrots.  Season with some of the salt and pepper.  Keep stirring and cooking until the vegetables brown lightly, about 10 minutes or more.  You want to build up some brown bits and flavor.

3. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more.  Add the wine, if using, to scrape up any stuck brown bits, then simmer until it disappears, about 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Add the chopped kale, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until well collapsed, then add the tomato sauce and bring back to a simmer.

5. Add the beans, and, if the mixture looks too dry or thick, add up to 3/4 cup broth or water, 1/4 cup at a time.  Simmer the mixture together over medium/low for about 10 minutes, adjusting the seasonings as needed.  *Keep in mind that the cheeses you add will impart some sodium too.

6. Turn off heat and mix in a little of the Parmesan and Mozzarella.  Transfer the mixture to a 3-quart casserole baking dish.

7. Sprinkle the top, first with mozzarella, then the Parmesan and Panko on top of that (mix these two together in a small bowl along with a drizzle of olive oil), and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until browned on top. If you’re impatient and want a deeper colour, you can run it under the broiler (Carefully!).  Garnish with chopped basil or parsley.