Cannellini Beans ~ How to grow, store and cook shelling beans (revisited)

I couldn’t go away on my holidays and not take a seed catalogue or two for light reading could I? And it’s not like I have ENOUGH seeds already, it’s just that you never know what else I might fancy growing, what old variety that is now on sale or a new variety – all tempt me. The only limits I have is my imagination, oh and space and budget and time, and, and….

I grow a lot of beans, the French filet style and the shelling kind. Shelling beans are fun to grow, great to cook with, easy to store and simple to save to sow next year. Shelling beans come in a myriad of shapes and colours but the Cannellini Bean is a classic for the kitchen. Tender and tasty, versatile and lovely to grow. Have I tempted you?

Looking back over this post it makes me smile, it’s a little instructional in nature, unusual for me. I’m not a fan of being told what to do (as many a former manager or teacher will testify to!) , but hopefully my passion for growing and gardening will shine through for you and give you some ideas of your own. I wonder what garden plans you have for the new year, what seeds in the catalogues are winking at you?

Happy gardening my friends x

French Seed Packets
French Seed Packets

Here we are in Spring and the new sowing of Cannelini Beans is doing well in the greenhouse.

1) How to Grow Cannellini Beans

Started in early May in pots and trays and planted out in late May / early June when they are looking nice and sturdy, have a few proper leaves and the last frost has been and gone. I find a nice sunny spot and give the seedlings plenty of good rich soil and compost,  regular watering, protection from pigeons, slugs and snails and they will come up good. Even in a relatively poor summer.

The Cannellini are a dwarf bean so there is no need for a tower of canes and endless string.

Patience is needed, just sit back and wait, water when it gets really dry, plant them in amongst the courgettes and salads or in a bed of their own. When the pods start to fatten up and you can see/ feel beans in them, and as the pods start to turn yellow and dry is the time to pick for fresh beans.

Come late August right through to early October I can eat these gems fresh. I never see the beans on sale here in the UK, except in cans. And I know they are perfectly good in cans, but growing my own veg is what I do, besides growing them for yourself you get to experience the real creamy freshness of shelling beans.

2) How to Prepare and Store Shelling Beans

I’d love to try my hand at canning some, but have yet to find a reliable method so for now they are all either eaten fresh of frozen. Trying to dry beans so that they can be stored dry is harder work, I find the beans have to be VERY dry or they will go mouldy. Besides drying beans need pre-soaking when you want to use them and I’m rarely organised enough for that.

To freeze the beans, they are shelled and sorted, remove any grotty ones along with the bean pods to the compost, wash and clean beans. There is no need to parboil them, simply sort them and put them in tuperware boxes directly in the freezer Make sure you label them, a couple of months down the line and you’ll be standing staring at similar looking boxes wondering what is what.

3) How to Cook Cannellini Beans

When you want to use some of the beans, take them out of the freezer, no need to defrost and just add them to a pan of cold water, plenty of water to cover them, but DO NOT SALT THEM. I realise I’m shouting but that is so important when cooking beans, salt just toughens the skins, the same is true for lentils. Bring the pan of water (with the beans in them) to boiling point and rapidly boil the beans for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down and simmer the beans for a further 15 minutes or until they are soft. When cooked through they are soft to the touch and when you prod a fork through them it goes through easily.  Drain them and rinse under cold running water, this helps stop the cooking process.

A note about freshness –

As they are fresh they will only take about 15 minutes, a lot depends on the freshness and of course things like Altitude.  If you manage to buy some fresh beans they’ll probably take 20 to 30 minutes to cook. Set a kitchen timer as a reminder so you can check them, you want them soft to bite into but not a mushy mess.

Recipe Suggestions –

For fresh cannellini beans I always think of France, Spain, Italy and Greece, you can find them on the markets there, so I tend to go with the flavours of the Mediterranean – simple dressings of olive oil and lemon or maybe some white wine vinegar, fresh chopped herbs like flat leaf Parsley, Basil or olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.  The creaminess of Cannellini are allowed to shine when cooked and prepared simply.

Alternatively drain the beans and then toss them in some olive oil while they are still warm, you can “frazzle” some garlic in hot olive oil and then start building your flavours.  If you like anchovies chop a few up and add them into the bean salad, I l ike to add some black pitted olives, halved and tossed in. You can eat them on their own or add other vegetables into the mix like sweet peppers, courgettes and tomatoes. It’s your choice !

I like to eat the beans slightly warm alongside other salads of tomatoes with grilled fish or grilled Haloumi cheese. Simple and oh so summer!

If I’ve tempted you into trying to grow a few fresh shelling beans that would be wonderful. For suppliers (in the UK) both Franchi Seeds and Thompson and Morgan sell them, I also spotted some likely contenders from the guys at Seed Savers Exchange. As I haven’t bought any Cannellini seeds this isn’t a recommendation – my seeds came to me in a swap.


  • I was wondering about beans that went beyond the broad and runner kind…. I will now look out for other varities as it would be good to have my own rather than buying them 🙂

  • Such good and interesting information, Even though I’m not planting them I enjoyed reading about yours and know whatever Mediterranean dishes you create, they’ll be delicious!

    • Thank you Ruth, I realise lots of people who read my blog don’t really garden or grow their own, but it touches me that people do read it!!! Wishing you a super weekend!

  • I love dry beans – a winter staple around here in soups, as well as on their own. It’s going to be a ‘light’ gardening year for me, with herbs and flowers taking the spotlight while I chase the Little Man around the yard, but one of these days, we’ll do shelling beans again!

    • I’ve been thinking about trying my hand at growing more flowers – I’d like to try some for picking and was wondering where I could squeeze them in on my allotment. I need to have a look at what you will grow for some ideas!

  • I grow borlotti beans but have never tried cannellini, although we eat huge amounts of them. Now your post has inspired me to have a go this year… plus it’s a good excuse to order some more seeds – thank you!

    • Borlotti beans are magic aren’t they! I’ve also grown flagelot – not a massive crop but gorgeous fresh so I must try some more again! And who needs an excuse to flick through a seed catalogue 😉

  • I never even *thought* of trying to grow cannellini beans! We do eat them from the can, so I am very interested in giving them a try. Thank you Claire! Oh! and my garlic is just starting to pop up! So silly, but I was fretting it wouldn’t grow. I’m delighted to see the little tops peeping through. 🙂

    • Hi there, you know I’m just the curious kind, and when I see seeds in shops or in catalogues I think why not?! Borlotti beans grow very well for me here so I think they would be good where you are – besides their pink/red pods are a delight to see growing in the veggie garden – in poor summers/autumns I sometimes struggle to get them to full ripeness but they are delicious young too!
      And three cheers for the garlic, I noticed most of mine was up before I came on holiday, and you know what I still haven’t got round to planting it all yet – so wet out there!

      • oh dear, but I don’t think we’d eat enough kidney-type beans (that is what borlotti came up as)… I’m definitely looking into something new for me though! Thank you Claire

  • Now this is a bean I would like to grow as it is one of my favorites. You always make growing sound so doable, but my little garden plot doesn’t always cooperate.

    • I do know what you mean about gardens not always cooperating! Our summers can vary so much in terms of heat that some years seem to be much leaner than others. Hope you have a fab weekend x

    • Fledgling veggie gardener, sounds like fun! There are some great shelling beans to grow – some traditional N American ones with great histories and beautiful colours then there are things like Black Turtle beans…… and on the list goes…… as I’m sure your daughter is finding out – it’s kind of addictive!

  • I love growing shelling beans! There’s something so special about snapping open the dry cases in the fall and the shiny gems popping out.

  • My dad’s last crop is almost gone. I’m savouring each dish I make with them. So very delicious. I can still picture my dad sitting in the kitchen and shelling the pods..

    • Your dad’s last crop must be so very special to you, and I can understand savouring them, every last one of them. Hope you have a bright and sunny weekend

  • You Have tempted me, friend! These are one of my favorite beans to cook with and I’ve (sniff) never tasted a single one of them fresh! I never even Thouht to plant my own, which is One lovely thing about having a friend like you. Thanks (once again) for the inspiration! Hope you’re having a wonderful day!

    • Miss Spree, lovely to hear from you! sniff, sniff you must try them fresh – they have a very short season in France, along with the flageolet beans, and our super picked and eaten the same day. and thank you so much for your kind words, I hope life is good for you right now and that you have a great weekend whatever you do!

    • Good question Glenda, thinking about it they grow a lot of fresh shelling beans in France, Italy and Greece – so Mediterranean climates are perfect. As you are hot I’m thinking shelling beans would be ok …… have you tried Borlotti beans as they would ripen easily with your warmth – mine sometimes struggle in our soggy damp summers/autumns, but they are delicious small and fresh and frozen. There are also some great beans like Black Turtle beans that ripen very easily too – and dry and store easily.

      • Hi Claire I would never have thought to grow Cannellini beans, what a great idea. If they are good in Italy and Greece, they will be good here. Next spring, I am on to it.

  • Wonderful information! I know it’s possible to grow drying beans here in this climate, because my aunt and my Dad both told stories of lean winters where they lived off them. As I buy loads of them from the co-op on the mainland, I would love to grow my own. I’ve tried several times with no luck. From you, I’ve learned two things that might make all the difference in my success: starting them indoors (which I’ve never done with any beans) and freezing rather than drying. Thank you, Claire!

    • I’m so pleased that I can help you! I’m wondering about short season beans and know that the Seed Savers Exchange have a lovely selection of drying beans – so many pretty colours to choose from! and I definitely recommend freezing as a way to store – that way if the beans aren’t quite ripe and dry enough they won’t go mouldy. It must have been hard work for previous generations to make sure they were dry for winter – such vital food!

    • I’ve almost given up on growing greens, almost — all except for PSB, Brussels and red cabbage – I think I’d like to try again with pak choi and see if I can persuade the slugs and snails to stay away…….

      • My cabbages have little green munching worms. I pick them off and squish them underfoot, but more appear and more leaves disappear every few days. I despair.

  • You make growing these type of beans sound super fun so I might try. I’ve always just grown beans like green beans where you eat the entire pod. I always thought you had to dry the other kind before cooking them. The ways in which you eat these sound yummy! Thank you, I learned something!

    • Hi there, I’ve found picking and freezing them straight away really works – they last ages in the freezer and taste great. and thank you for dropping by commenting 🙂

  • Claire it has never occurred to me that cannellini beans could be grown so easily. I always just used the dried or canned but what a treat fresh must be. I am intrigued and slightly amazed at the beauty of your garden…and a wee bit jealous…but inspired.

    • Don’t be jealous Teresa – it’s a mess right now!! It has that rather sad and neglected winter feel about it. So roll on Spring and warmer weather !

  • How many comments do you have on this?! A popular post, we like being told how to do things 🙂 Have never grown these, maybe this year as I love them…..

  • I’ve grown green beans but never the shelling kind. Now I’m really curious about how they taste fresh out of the garden. Still time to add them to my list for next summer–thanks for the enlightenment!

    • Hi Inger, I can really recommend growing shelling beans (I know seed savers exchange have some lovely ones…). Borlotti beans are a favourite with us – big and meaty, and very versatile. Cannellini beans are much more delicate. I hope you get to try some this year

  • Do you have problems with the insects-the leaf minors? They destroy esp tomatoes, beans ,peppers. When I had a garden I killed them with nicotine which is organic and not toxic to plant or fruit. Put several cigarette butts in a spray bottle of water. Let set a few days until water color of dark tea. Spray on leaves. You will be amazed at restoration and new growth insect free. Repeat treatment every 5 days or so. A good way to get rid of beetles is to fill half way with water cheap waxed cardboard paint buckets with water. Put at ends of rows. The beetles are attracted, fall into water and then scoop out to dispose. Once again-no chemicals.

      • Hi Carl, no we don’t have problems with the leaf miner, (I’m crossing my fingers here too!) our main culprits are slugs and snails that can wipe out newly planted seedlings in an evening. There are other bugs that can hit but they tend to be one-offs. and like you I’m all for organic sprays. I’ve read about the nicotine spray but never actually tried it. For pests like Greenfly and aphids I use a very very weak washing up liquid solution which helps knock them off and knock them out.

  • Until now, I’ve only purchased tinned cannellini and made dips out of them. I’m getting so inspired to try some more serious gardening this summer. I don’t believe we’ll be away all summer like in years past.. so I could probably have a go at this. Thanks for your great instructions, I’m an amateur so they are really necessary! xx

    • I love the canned cannellini beans, but it was certainly a lot of fun to grow fresh. I totally understand what you mean about commitments and not being able to garden, it’s bad enough going away for a while in winter let alone summer. So that would be magical to see and hear about your gardening x

  • I just found your blog and am very happy I did- I just had my first garden last year and didn’t plant beans, but I want to- I use them so often. Looking forward to reading more from you!

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