Cannellini beans must be one of the worlds perfect foods – their soft creamy texture barely encumbered by a thin shell, the outside barely distinguished from inside. A very close relative of the kidney bean, but more delicate. They are great warmed or cold with only a slight give when you bite it. Plus they have pretty good nutritional value, providing 15 g protein, 11 g fiber, and over 20% of the USRDA of iron and magnesium in a cup.
I’ve always been a canned bean fan for ease of preparation, but I recently decided to try reconstituting dried cannellini beans when I was making soup the other night. I did my research — how long to soak the beans in advance? How long to cook them? I found a few good online resources here (info on all beans, but cooking instructions are for pressure cooker), here, and here. Consensus seemed to be that cannellini beans need at least 4 hours soaking and then about 45 minutes to an hour to cook on the stovetop. My friend Julie, aka Yulinka, always adds baking soda to her beans to aid in digestion, so you can add this to the soaking liquid.
I soaked the little white beans no larger than pebbles for their allotted four hours and then some. Fretted when the wrinkled skin expanded faster than their insides so they looked like opaque white raisins. Breathed a sigh of relief when the insides caught up and the beans had tripled in size and started to look like the canned variety after about 2-3 hours. Tasted the post-soaked, pre-cooked version just to check the texture — yup, they definitely still need to be coooked. And then 45 minutes on the stove in 3X as much water and a few pinches of salt. Watched them like a hawk. 45 minutes came and went. Not ready yet. 1 hour, almost there. Step away for a moment. Beans split, thin skins separated from creamy centers. Disaster.
Luckily I had a can of white beans to throw into the soup and refrigerated this tasty but ugly mess for another day and a little inspiration to hit.
This came soon enough when, even though I have already professed a distaste for sun-dried tomatoes, I decided to embrace my attempts at reconstituting dried foods and hope for the best. Worst case scenario, if I pureed everything together, it probably couldn’t be so bad.
The resulting white bean spread got the nod of approval from my downstairs neighbor/foodie cook and ardent recipe follower, Bruce and his always ready with a tasting spoon wife, Judy.
Italian-esque White Bean Spread
I have no idea whether this is remotely Italian, but cannellini beans are often used in Italian cooking and the classic tomato-basil combination evokes a caprese salad (sans mozzerella). Instead of reconstituting the dried tomatoes, you can use sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil and use the olive oil from the jar (if you have enough) which should be infused with that tomato taste. The cayenne gives the spread a kick at the back of the tongue that intensifies the longer the ingredients have to mesh.
Makes ~ 1.5 C and keeps for about a week refrigerated
1/2 C dry cannellini beans, reconstituted in 1.5 C water (~1C) or 1 can (15.5 oz)
5 sun-dried tomatoes (dried)
3T extra virgin olive oil, separated
zest and juice of 1 lemon (~1 1/2 T)
1/2 t cayenne pepper
2 T fresh basil (I used basil that I had frozen the last time I cut down my basil plant), or 2 t dried; can probably substitute other Italian herb to taste such as oregano or thyme
1-2 t kosher salt (to taste)
1/2 – 1 t freshly ground pepper (to taste)
Prepare cannellini beans. Rinse and sort beans (remove any stones and debris) and then soak at room temperature for at least 4 hour or overnight. Don’t worry if they get wrinkled initially – eventually the beans will expand to fill their skins. Simmer beans in fresh water to cover for ~1 hour (or more) with a few pinches kosher salt. Don’t worry if they split because you’re going to puree them anyway! OR – use one can of beans, rinsed and drained.
Prepare sun-dried tomatoes. Option 1 (quick method) – microwave 5 tomatoes in 2T olive oil for 3-4 minutes in 1-minute increments (handle carefully because oil will be hot). This will quickly infuse the oil with the intense tomato flavor. Allow to cool to room temperature and then cut tomatoes into thin slivers — I found kitchen shears easier to use than a knife. Option 2 – soak tomatoes in boiled water for 15 minutes (don’t over soak), drain, cut into slivers, and either soak in olive oil, or use as is.
Add tomatoes and infused oil to beans in a large bowl. Zest lemon over bowl and then add its juice. Add cayenne, salt and pepper to taste, and herbs, ideally basil. Use immersion blender to puree and add additional olive oil to attain desired consistency.
Serve with baguette or pita.