As Julia della Croce wrote in The Oldways Table, “legumes are vegetables with the power of meat, and our ancestors couldn’t have done without them.” Although beans are one of the basic dishes of the world, they are up against the general ingrained snobbishness of many people. Consider the old saying that something without value is “not worth a hill of beans.” There is a growing appreciation for beans from both a culinary and medical standpoint.
In the wake of medical research about the folly of the meat-loaded Western diet, we opened our minds to all sorts of new bean ideas. In fact, the Tuscans ate so many beans they were dubbed mangiafagioli (bean eaters)! Beans are not only healthy, they are very aﬀordable and delicious, carriers of the ﬂavors of any recipe. Today, you can choose among many recipes from cookbooks and websites (including Oldways and The Oldways Table!). Since the Tuscans were called bean eaters, I thought a Tuscan cookbook would be a great place to ﬁnd a new Mediterranean recipe featuring beans. This recipe comes from two very special women from Australia. Maggie Beer and Stephanie Alexander are long-time friends who have each made their mark on the culinary landscape. Maggie has a food company, restaurant and cooking school in South Australia’s Barossa wine country. Stephanie had an award-winning restaurant in Melbourne and has created a Kitchen Garden Foundation to bring the garden and cooking to school children in Australia. Both are proliﬁc writers of cookbooks and articles. They’re also fast friends who rented a house outside Siena in Tuscany and created a gloriously beautiful cookbook ﬁlled with Tuscan recipes they created (or learned about) during their time in Tuscany. Maggie and Stephanie say “one of the most characteristic things about Tuscan cooking is the use of readily available and single ingredients, grapes, red wine, tomatoes, olive oil, bread and of course, beans.” They suggest this recipe for white bean puree can be eaten hot or cold, and served as a spread on bread or crackers, or on top of a soup. -Sara
White Bean Purée We tasted bean soups, stews, salads, and purées such as this one at various meals. Bean purées can be made more or less sloppy depending on whether the ﬁnal result is to be a soup, served hot or cold with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, or, as here, to be thick enough to be spread on bread before being placed under the broiler. Ingredients 6 ounces dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight (See note below if you want to use canned beans)* 3 cups cold water 1 tablespoon tomato paste salt 1 teaspoon freshly chopped garlic 1 teaspoon ﬁnely chopped fresh rosemary extra-virgin olive oil ¾ cup hot Brodo (vegetable broth or stock) juice of ½ lemon freshly ground black pepper Preparation (Start here if you are using dried beans) 1. Rinse the soaked beans, then put them in a large saucepan with the water and add the tomato paste and a scant pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the head and simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours. The beans should be covered with water for the ﬁrst 1½ hours. When the beans are tender almost all of the water should have been absorbed. (Start here if you are using canned beans) 2. Purée the beans in a food processor. 3. Sauté the garlic and rosemary in a little olive oil. Add the purée and mix well. Pour in the hot stock and stir over heat until thoroughly absorbed. The purée should now be smooth, thick and shiny. Add extra oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. 4. Serve the purée on toasted, dense bread and warm in the oven for 10 minutes or place under the broiler until golden, if desired. The purée keeps well, refrigerated in a covered container, for several days. *NOTE: Since 1 pound of beans will give you roughly the same amount as 3 15-ounce cans of beans, or about 5 cups, if you want to use canned beans, this recipe will call for one and a half 15-ounce cans of cannellini beans, or 22-23 ounces of canned beans. Recipe adapted from Tuscan Cookbook by Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer.
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