Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Warm Tuscan Nights

The past week has been hectic. Yes, that is an understatement. A weekend conference, a New Nordic night, and still recuperating from flu/asthma gunk had me craving a day at home with a pot full of warmth. My precarious relationship with Ms. Crockpot is well documented. But occasionally she comes through with a sincere effort toward friendship.

At happy hour with a veggie friend last week, we discussed the success she has had making legumes and soups in her slow cooker. The white beans she described had just a few ingredients, and their simplicity sounded perfect for a girl in need of quiet rest. The recipe below is based on hers, but of course I couldn't leave well enough alone and I've added a couple of things.

The beauty of Tuscan White Beans is that they make a happy lunch or light supper, then transition beautifully into a crostini spread or snack dip. The night before you make this, stir together a whole wheat no-knead bread dough. Bake the bread while you prepare the vinaigrette and toss a salad.

Tuscan White Beans
1 lb. dried white beans
8 cups water
7 garlic cloves, peeled
2 sage stems (remove leaves and set aside*)
Sprig each rosemary, thyme, oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Place all ingredients in slow cooker and heat on low 7 to 8 hours or until beans are tender.

Drain beans, remove garlic, stems, and sprigs. Place garlic in small bowl; mash. Discard herbs.

*For sage leaves:
Fry sage leaves in olive oil until crisp; about 30 seconds each side. Remove and place on paper towel. Season with salt. Use oil to fry shallots (see next step).

For vinaigrette:
1 large shallot, diced fine
Sage-fried olive oil plus additional olive oil for blending
Zest and juice from 2 lemons
2 to 3 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon smashed garlic
1 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Fry shallots in a bit of olive oil until just tender; about 3 minutes. Mix with remaining ingredients and add enough additional olive oil to make a vinaigrette. Pour over beans.

For garlic rub:
Zest from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Mash garlic with zest, juice, salt and pepper, and enough olive oil to make spreadable.

Serve beans garnished with sage leaves, warm bread with the garlic rub, and a big arugula salad with honey-mustard & lemon dressing.

Second day serving suggestion: mash or blend beans, add garlic rub, serve on toast. Garnish with fried sage leaves.