Friday, June 27, 2014

The Creamiest White Beans & Leeks with Parsley Pesto

It seems odd to say that "I've been on a bit of a white bean kick." White beans are not exactly the type of food item that would seem to evoke any sort of "kick" type behavior, and yet here I am, once again writing on the subject with, admittedly, far too much enthusiasm for a humble legume.

I can hear the collective groan. Legume? It's a terrible word, isn't it? The "moist" of the dried food world, if I'm going to be unabashedly, and disgustingly ironic about it.

The thing is, I never really thought much of them either, gliding by them in the grocery store in pursuit of more compelling (?) proteins. At least as far as my palate was concerned. I far preferred chickpeas, edamame or, well, bacon, until I discovered the dried bean way of going about things. Like Columbus discovering America. New to him, not new to the Vikings or Leif Erikson.

And just like that… switches. Flipped.

This dried bean nonsense is serious business. You start by rushing the soaking. Perhaps even skipping it entirely, thinking, foolishly, that you can somehow hurry it along with mental telepathy. After the third hour of ferocious boiling on the stovetop, you decide to plan better next time, soaking it for a whole four (!) hours, feeling proud that you had the foresight to take 45 minutes off the ferocious boiling time. Never mind that perhaps the beans seem to break a part more than you'd like - the same qualm you have about their canned counterpart that has sat undisturbed in the back of your pantry for a rainy day that you secretly hope never happens.

What you are really looking for is bean with bite, that bit of resistance that almost makes you forget that you are eating… not bacon.

And suddenly, you become fanatical about how to make them taste better and better - monitoring how tiny changes impact the final product. Soaking them not just overnight, but for a whole 30 hours, intermittently changing the water, tending to the precarious bowl that's taking up far too much space on the second shelf of your refrigerator with far more attention than you ever paid to the rainbow fish you owned as a child.

Then you begin carrying on about the cooking process. Preparing them without the requisite onion, carrot, celery, garlic, a bay leaf, and sprig of thyme flavoring the water becomes an impossibility. You find yourself fretting about the precise moment to add salt lest the tenderness of the beans be compromised during their, now, much more succinct cooking time.  Even that is conducted with less ferocious boiling and more gentle bubbling to preserve the delicate shells.

Intact shells, you discover, are a very good thing.

So, naturally, when you spend all this time fretting and attending to some humble legumes, what you do with them has to be equally ambitious - a recipe that proclaims itself as the "creamiest," as though it were a blue Kraft box in the dried pasta aisle.

It, the recipe that instructs one to simmer white beans with white wine and sautéed leeks, is perfectly fine in its original conception, yet compulsion dictates further embellishment. Ribbons of parsley pesto stain the beans green, grated parmigiano reggiano and lemon zest graze the top, and when you finish the plate with a side of kokuho rose heirloom brown rice and roasted asparagus, you wonder out loud:

"All this for rice and beans."

A real kick, isn't it?

Creamiest White Beans with Leeks & Parsley Pesto
Adapted from Jamie Oliver via Serious Eats
Serves 4

For beans:
1 cup dried white beans
1 celery stalk
1 carrot, scrubbed clean and stem removed
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt

For parsley pesto:
5 cloves garlic, roasted in the oven, unpeeled, at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes
Leaves from 1 bunch parsley
Juice from half a lemon
2 tablespoons toasted, slivered almonds
1/4 cup grated parmesan reggiano
1 tablespoon olive oil
Water, as needed to thin out

For dish:
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 leeks, cleaned well, white & green parts only, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt, pepper
6 ounces dry white wine (a pinot grigio works well)
1/2 cup chicken broth + more if needed
1 cup dried white beans, prepared (as per the above)
Parsley Pesto (per the above)

To finish:
Parmigiano reggiano cheese
Lemon zest
Short grain brown rice (optional, but encouraged)
Roasted asparagus (optional, but encouraged)

To prepare the white beans:
At least 12 hours before preparing (and preferably more), rinse 1 cup of dried white beans, picking through to remove any stones or blemished beans. Transfer to a large bowl, and cover with a few inches of cold water. Refrigerate, changing the water out a couple times, until ready to use.

Drain the soaking water away, and bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the beans, the celery, carrot, garlic, and thyme. Reduce the heat to a low boil, and simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes. Add the salt, and continue simmering for 15-30 additional minutes until at desired level of tenderness. Drain, discard the aromatics and set aside.

To prepare the parsley pesto:
Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor (an immersion blender also works great). Pulse/blend until the ingredients blend together into a green sauce, adding splashes of water, as needed to thin out.

To prepare the dish:
Heat olive oil in a large, deep, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-hiigh heat. Add the leeks, and sauté for 7 or so minutes over medium heat, stirring every now and again. Add the garlic, a pinch of salt, pepper, and continue sautéing for another 3 minutes. Add the wine and chicken broth, bring to a boil, and then add the prepared white beans. Simmer over medium low heat for 15-20 minutes until the liquid has mostly evaporated. Stir in the parsley pesto to taste (you'll likely have some left over), and turn off the heat.

To serve:
Spoon the white beans over brown rice (preferably a short grain variety). Sprinkle with lemon zest and parmesan cheese. "Garnish" the plate with roasted asparagus.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

White Bean & Quinoa Salad: Repeat Offender

It hardly seems fair that one of my favorite salads - a quinoa salad at that! - was initially introduced to you as an afterthought. An "oh, by the way," rather than the star of the show, the meat of the matter, or whatever cliche you prefer to be inserted here.

It's been bothering me for the past few months, and increasingly more so with its recent revival back into my weekday lunch rotation. Every time I sit down in front of my computer, my shoulders hunched over my oversized tupperware as I brace myself to go into shovel mode, I feel it.

A nudge of guilt.

The whole thing is really quite ridiculous. It's not as though salads - and quinoa salads at that! - are even exciting to most people. At least not in the same way that strawberry buttermilk cupcakes and chocolate cookies are, because, you know, sugar. I'm very well aware that I'm part of a mere 0.005% of the population who actually looks forward to eating something this egregiously healthy, and the others populating that minuscule percentage point are probably secretly lusting after bacon.

So, of course, it's positively absurd that I would be bothered that you may have missed the memo about this quinoa salad. That you may not have noticed the key differentiators that make this so much more than the lunch you eat because you aught to - the use of dried white beans instead of canned; the quinoa that's lightly toasted in a skillet before preparing; the aggressive crunch of finely chopped celery, radish and red onion; the woodsy walnut oil & sherry vinaigrette that is far more interesting than the standard made with olive oil.

And then, lest we stop there, the triumphant application of toasted walnuts and avocado.

These things - walnuts and avocados! - are like cupcakes and bacon to people like me.

A very big deal.

The biggest deal.

And something worth repeating in case it wasn't explicitly clear the first time. 

White Bean and Quinoa Salad
Inspired by the Cranberry Bean Salad in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Serves 3-4

1 1/2 cups cooked white beans (preferably prepared from scratch - it makes a difference, I pinky swear!)
3/4 cup quinoa
4-5 radishes, sliced into thin pieces, then chopped into little nubs
1 stalk celery, minced
1/4 red onion, minced
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon walnut oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Salt, pepper
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted
1/2 avocado, sliced and cut into small chunks

Thoroughly rinse the quinoa. Heat a large, nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the quinoa, and toast, shaking the pan frequently, until lightly brown, but not burned.

Bring just shy of 1 1/2 cups of salted water to boil in a medium-sized sauce pan. Add the toasted quinoa, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed. Fluff quinoa with a fork and let cool to room temperature.

While quinoa is cooking, soak minced red onion in bowl of cool water for at least 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Whisk together the walnut oil and sherry vinegar.

In a large bowl, combine quinoa, white beans, radish, celery, parsley, salt and pepper. Toss with sherry-walnut vinaigrette.  Top with walnuts and avocado just before serving.