I am Italian, therefore I must serve appetizers. They've found a gene for this, you know. And this white bean puree fits my definition of a perfect appetizer: simple to prepare, full of flavor, and light enough not to spoil any appetites. For dipping, I set out slices of crisp raw fennel and carrot, and my favorite crackers -- Mary's Gone Crackers - they are wheat-free and gluten-free, made from rice and seeds, pleasantly nutty and light. A log of goat cheese, rolled in a mixture of mortar-and-pestle-ground herbs and spices (herbes de Provence, fennel seed, red pepper flakes, and a little salt and black pepper), and a bowl of olives (oil-cured black and a mix of brined black and green) rounded out the pre-dinner snacks. All around this was a light, appetite-awakening assortment that went very nicely with a glass of prosecco.
PS: All you garlic lovers out there, check out this great article from the New York Times – all you ever wanted to know about young garlic, scapes, and what to do with them. The very minute green garlic arrives at the greenmarket I will be making this soup.
herbed white bean puree with spring garlic
As an appetizer, this puree is delicious as a dip for veggies or as a topping for crostini. Scooped into a whole-wheat pita or spread on a wrap, along with sprouts, cucumber, and tomato, it would also make a light and satisfying lunch or dinner.
Makes about 3-1/2 cups
- 1 cup dried white beans (such as navy or cannellini), picked through and soaked in cold water overnight (this will yield about 3 cups of cooked beans; if using canned beans, you'll need about two 14-ounce cans, drained and rinsed)
- small piece of kombu (dried kelp), about 1 inch by 1 inch
- 1 tsp herbes de Provence
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 Tbsp chopped spring garlic (I used the bulb up through the first couple of inches of tender green tops, and discarded the tough darker green tops) (or substitute 1 Tbsp regular garlic and 1 Tbsp shallot, chopped)
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- Juice of 1 lemon (2 to 3 Tbsp) (plus more, if needed, to taste)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus more as needed)
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- Drain the soaked beans, place them in a medium pot, and cover with fresh, cold water by about 3 inches. Add the kombu, herbes de Provence, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a lively simmer. Add 1 tsp sea salt. Partially cover pot and cook until beans are tender, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour to 1-1/2 hours. Cooking time will vary based on the size and age of the beans. (I always taste 5 beans to determine if the pot is done; if you taste only one you can be fooled, since they can cook at different rates.)
- When beans are tender, turn off heat, cover pot, and let the beans sit in their cooking liquid for about 30 minutes. (This will make them creamier.) Remove bay leaf and kombu (if the kombu has fallen apart, don't worry about removing all of it -- it won't affect the taste or appearance of the puree. I just remove any bigger pieces). Drain beans, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.
- Transfer beans to a food processor. Add spring garlic, rosemary, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, 1/4 cup of bean cooking liquid, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Blend for a few minutes until a smooth puree has formed, scraping down sides of bowl as needed so everything is incorporated.
- Check for consistency, and blend in more olive oil and/or bean cooking liquid if needed to achieve a smooth and creamy mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and more lemon juice if desired.
- The puree can be served right away, but I like to make this a few hours in advance (or the night before) and let it sit in the fridge, which allows the flavors to meld. Cover the surface of the puree with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out. Let sit at room temp for about 30 minutes before serving.