Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bean And Not Heard

If you asked my grandfather what he wanted to eat, day or night, his answer was always the same: "I want beans." Beans are a little acknowledged staple in Spanish cooking, particularly in the winter. Many of the most well known soups from the north of Spain (like Fabada and Caldo Gallego) where I'm from, are bean soups and are extremely easy to make. But beans are good for more than just soups and stews. They make great salads, side dishes and purees, and are really good for you. They're a great source of lean protein (better than any meats) and have been proven to dramatically lower your cholesterol and risk of heart disease, which explains why they're considered by some to be a superfood.

I try to eat them at least once a week, and last week when I just couldn't muster up the strength to make a full meal after work, I decided to take a cue from my grandfather and make some beans and a side salad. Beans are incredibly affordable, especially if you buy them dried, but even the canned variety give you a lot of bang for your buck. I always keep the pantry stocked with at least three different kinds just for weeks like this one. I wasn't sure exactly what I'd make with them, but I wanted something quick and easy. After rinsing them under cold water for a minute (it's important to get that sugary, starchy liquid off of canned beans) I decided that I'd keep it simple and just sauté cannellini beans in really good extra virgin olive oil with garlic and a few dry spices. There are a million easy ways to make these beans, and I often cook them with bacon, artichokes, chorizo, or even red pepper flakes for heat, but this time I just wanted a nice glistening plateful of beans with clean flavors, and maybe a splash of lemon juice.

The dish turned out great. So good, in fact, that I'm thinking of making a simple puree with the leftovers to accompany another meal. I make several pureed soups out of cannellini's, in addition to many dips and spreads when I entertain. If you have a food processor they can be a huge time saver, and keep you from having to turn on your stove top. Just make sure you have some olive oil on hand and add in some of your favorite ingredients--sun dried tomato and basil make a great dip, or bliz it up with rosemary and sauteed onions, then add it to a pan with some rendered bacon and you have a great soup--the combinations are endless. Here's what I did to make my easy dinner beans:

Cannellini Beans with Thyme and Rosemary (enough for 2 people)

1 19 oz can cannellini beans
3 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
extra virgin olive oil
lemon wedges (for garnish)

1. Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil with garlic in a non stick skillet on medium heat.

2. Meanwhile, drain beans and run under cold water for a minute to remove starchy liquid. Make sure they're as dry as possible.

3. Add beans to pan along with salt and pepper to taste. Add the dried spices and cook until warmed through. Add more olive oil if the beans look dry.

4. Plate and top with another slosh of olive oil. Serve with lemon wedges for a little bit of acid. Enjoy!


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