Chicken, Tomatoes & Cannellini Beans: A Freestyle Kitchen Easy Family Dinner

Chicken, Tomatoes & Cannellini Beans came about like so many of the dishes I make: me, cooking intuitively and casually while driven by hunger. For the most part, I measure, time and record how I develop new dishes for the blog (and let me tell you, that’s challenging when I’m ready to eat, right now). But sometimes, I write up my posts as casually as I cook, in my Freestyle Kitchen format, which really is a memory-based word portrait of dinner in action in my kitchen. In keeping with this approach, the photos are simple snapshots — nothing fancy that stands between me and my dinner!

Chicken, Tomatoes & Cannellini Beans

False modesty not really being my thing, I’m just going to put it right out there: I had a stroke of brilliance in the kitchen the other day. (The other day being in 2014, but hey, isn’t that just like yesterday? Yes, I’m updating old material from my archives.)

I’d known for days what I was going to make for dinner, ever since I went all Little House on the Prairie and actually poached a chicken, making my own stock and garnering quite a few cups of chopped chicken meat in the process.

My vision was a tomato sauce with chicken, served over pasta, but little did I know that idea would take a sudden turn most of the way through the cooking process — freestyling in the kitchen at its finest!

After spending the afternoon writing, except for an hour at the physiotherapist getting my shoulder unstuck, I was ready for a little culinary rehab. I got out the chopping board and ever so casually, while relaxing with a glass of wine (yes, I can relax and cook at the same time), got dinner going. I chopped an onion, a couple cloves of garlic, a few inches of red chill pepper, and the heart of a head of celery that was starting to go limp. There were lots of celery leaves, which I like ever so much.

After heating a good slosh of olive oil in my large skillet, I stirred the veggies over medium high heat in a high-sided pan with an abundance of freshly ground pepper and a restrained amount of salt (kosher, of course). Once the vegetables were starting to soften, a couple cups of cubed cooked chicken joined the party. My idea was to caramelize the chicken, but that didn’t happen (because, you know, order of operations) and it didn’t really matter. A couple slugs of the nice red wine that I was drinking went in next, followed by a tin of good San Marzano tomatoes. It was worth the cost to splurge out on this one ingredient; their quality and the texture of their sauce really does make a difference. Next to get thrown into the pan was a good amount of dried oregano and basil, followed by the leaves from a bunch of thyme sprigs. Measurements were by the tried and (mostly) true eyeball method.

It was while all this was cooking over a simmer for about 30 minutes that I came to the realization that I simply didn’t feel like making a pasta dish. It just felt like too much work, involving yet another big pot, and I was leaving for a movie in an hour. So, I let the sauce cook down a fair bit, then  drained a can of cannellini beans and added them to the pan along with a big handful of chopped parsley. Of course, along the way there’d been tasting going on, with some more pepper being added. Because of the sweet blandness of the beans I threw in a little more salt too. It took about 10 minutes more to heat the beans through.

Voila, I had hearty, rustic plate of chicken, tomatoes and bean saucy goodness for dinner. It was so satisfying. What can I say … I was super pleased with myself for coming up with this alternative to a traditional pasta and sauce. It’s not that I’d invented beans in a tomato sauce (c’mon, you didn’t really think that, right?); rather, by not encumbering myself with the rigidity of a recipe, I was able to improvise at a crucial point in the cooking process and take the meal in a different direction than originally planned.

That’s freestyle kitchen cooking!

Looking for More Freestyle Kitchen Ideas?

Here are some more dishes from the Freestyle Kitchen series for you to enjoy: Halibut Poached in Vegetable Broth; Sausage, Potato & Onion Dinner; and Lemon Honey Salmon & Celeriac Puree.

First Published 2014 04 11
Republished 2022 11 06


    • I hope my blog gives people the confidence to do this kind of intuitive cooking — recipes have their place, but aren’t always necessary. I think many of us cook this way!

  1. Yeah, you! That’s truly inspired cooking.

    I had a similar inspiration, years ago, beans were also involved. Similar to your recipe, but including potatoes and sausage. You’ve reminded me to go back to that….


    • I’m so glad to hear my post has reminded you of an old favourite dish and inspired you to go back to it. I love it when that happens when I’m reading someone else’s blog. It’s easy to forget all about a favoured dish, and a delight to rediscover it!

  2. Looks delicious – I like free form cooking too – and the more wine floating around the more free form it gets – which also means i usually forget to get the camera out…

    • Oh, yes, I know that feeling of having had a great meal and realizing I forgot to capture it in photographs. Was there wine involved or not? I’ll leave you to ponder that.

  3. You hit this one out of the park, Mar. I doubt you could not have done better if you had set out to make this dish. It really is that good! When I first started my blog, one of the hardest things for me was to learn to measure things. I found myself having to make an old favorite again and again until I got the seasoning just right. Even now, I’ll be midway through cooking a dish before realizing I hadn’t kept track of anything already in the pot. Some old habits just refuse to die. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, John. Of course, the ease with which you naturally cook is what most people aspire to. All that note-taking is definitely a learned skill!

      I’ve also gotten most of the way through a recipe before realizing I hadn’t been measuring. One of the hardest for me still is the amount of pepper I grind into things. I’ve even measured out how many teaspoons I get from so many turns of the grinder, but still I forget.

      So, this new series is a treat to write. It’s how I cook, with the assumption that the reader will know how to add pepper to taste, etc. And for my ‘normal’ posts, I’m still measuring and taking notes (or desperately trying to remember after the fact, LOL).

  4. I can’t tell you how many recipes I’ve made for the blog measuring all the ingredients carefully but after tasting for additional seasoning, I add them without measuring. 🙂 Your dish sounds great…I can’t tell you how many dishes I prepare with beans instead of pasta like you have done.

    • Yes, it’s a challenge for intuitive cooks to stop and measure, isn’t it! My other challenge is thinking I’ll remember just how I made something, and then drawing a blank when I come to write about it. Live and learn, I’m getting better! Beans do make a great substitute for pasta don’t they.

      • We sound exactly alike. I have notes of the exact amount of ingredients I’ve used and great photos of a dish but I can’t write the article. I have to make the recipe again because what I thought that comes naturally while cooking would come naturally while writing and it doesn’t. 😀

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