In light of the ongoing Great Dried Bean Challenge ’09, I’ve been searching on-line, and in my various cookbooks, for heirloom bean recipes. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are basically three beans in America: white, red, and black. The white beans are almost always Great Northern or cannellini, the red beans are kidney or pinto (a type of kidney bean) and the black beans just “black.” So imagine my surprise when, thinking I might try to grow & dry some beans this year, I went to the Seed Savers Exchange and found dozens of beans, with exotic names, yet nary a “black,” “red” or “white” in sight.
So why, when there are literally hundreds of bean varieties to choose from, do we eat…..three? For a country with 15 kinds of Coke, this seems strangely un-American. And yet it is endemic of what has happened, in only one generation, to our national food system. Go to a standard grocery store, at any time of the year and you will find the same staple produce: one or two kinds of lettuce (iceberg & romaine), one carrot, one celery, one potato (Russet), one onion (yellow), one garlic, one squash (butternut). It’s so sad. This is where farmer’s markets are a real revelation; who knew there were cucumbers that looked like lemons? Purple carrots? Six kinds of garlic, dozens of different lettuces and hundreds of varieites of tomato? Farmers knew. Gardeners knew. And now I know. And I simply can’t go back to the black-and-white world of Stop-and-Shop.
So, today’s bean adventure involves Lina Cisco’s Bird’s Egg beans. These beans have a quite subtle, almost mysterious flavor; I can’t really tell why they taste different from an ‘ordinary’ white bean, but they do. There’s almost a savory hint in there, like they were grown near rosemary or sage, or out in the desert, near cactus and manzanita, rather than in Iowa on the Seed Savers farm. The texture is just a bit chalky for me (of the 3 varieties I’ve tried so far, for an all-around bean the Painted Pony has been my favorite) but the flavor is outstanding in this simple bean spread.
This recipe was loosely (very loosely) adapted from Cannellini Bean Confetti Spread in Heirloom Beans, by Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo. (OK, so I changed pretty much every ingredient. And most of the methods. So I completely made this recipe up. But, I got the idea after reading the Heirloom Beans recipe and I like to give credit where credit is due.)
Lina Cisco’s Bean Spread
- 1 head garlic
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 and 1/4 cup cooked Lina Cisco’s Bird’s Egg beans, or other white heirloom bean (about 5 oz dried)
- 3 medium scallions, white parts finely minced, green parts thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
- 1 heaping tsp fresh rosemary, minced
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
- approximately 1 tsp sea salt
- approximately 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the top 1/3rd off of the head of garlic (leave papery skin on), place in a small oven-proof bowl, and drizzle with the olive oil, making sure to soak the entire head. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the interior of the cloves is soft and slightly brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Reserve the olive oil.
- In the meantime, rinse cooked beans and toss to dry. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor. Add scallions, parsley, rosemary, lemon juice, and vinegar.
- Remove roasted garlic cloves from skins by pushing at the base of the clove to pop the clove out. Alternatively slice a single cut down the middle of the clove’s papery skin, separate, and scoop out the softened flesh. Add approximately half of the garlic cloves to the food processor. Add about 1/2 tsp each of salt & pepper.
- Pulse to combine. Drizzle reserved olive oil in through the feed tube as the food processor is running.
- Stop the processor and taste. Add more garlic, salt & pepper as desired. Pulse to combine between additions. Add more olive oil if necessary, in order to make a moist but chunky spread.
- When you’ve achieved the taste you want, add the last 1/4 cup of beans to the spread and pulse 2 or 3 times, to leave a bit of chunkiness in the spread.
- Garnish with fresh parsley leaves or a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with crackers, crostini, or a crusty hearth bread.
Yields about 1 and 1/2 cups of bean spread.
- For energy-efficient roasting of garlic, roast a head or two in a small bowl alongside other meals, such as braised pork or roasted vegetables, and store in the refrigerator for use in recipes. Roasted garlic will keep well in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Do not roast in the oven with pies, pastries, or anything that you do not want to taste like garlic. (Although garlic-apple pie does sound intriguing….)
- For local beans, try Jacob’s Cattle or navy beans from Cayuga Pure Organics. Unfortunately I haven’t found a good substitute for olive oil in either roasting of garlic or in making bean paste. In this case, since the oil picks up so much flavor from the garlic, a little goes a long way!
This will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.