The first article that Chef David Tanis wrote for the New York Times in his column City Kitchen, extolled the versatility of cooked, dried beans. His recipe combined cold, cooked cannellini beans with a lemony vinaigrette and a garnish of shaved spring vegetables. I made that salad the day I read the article in June of last year, and I revisited it this week after stocking up on an abundance of fresh spring vegetables. I was looking for a salad to serve with grilled lamb chops and this is a perfect match. In our house we like to eat beans with barbecued food and in hearty soups. Last week I made cassoulet , the ultimate bean dish. All over the Middle East beans are eaten for breakfast, in the form of “fuls”, small dried brown fava beans. There are often beans on the plate of an English breakfast, alongside the eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding and tomatoes. In her lovely book “An Everlasting Meal”, Tamar Adler devotes a chapter to bean cookery. It’s titled “How to Live Well”. It is a story of everything you need to know about cooking and eating beans. Mr. Tanis notes the versatility of his bean salad; the accompaniments can be varied to the seasons and the contents of your pantry. I ate my salad for lunch with a hard-cooked egg and for dinner with a lamb chop. I didn’t have cannellini beans so I used flageolets, and they were just fine. I added thinly shaved carrot to my vegetable garnish and chervil and chives for color and freshness. Simple, humble, cooked beans can be the basis for a delicious meal. All you need is a big pot of water and a little time. Here are the recipes:
Cannellini Bean Salad with Shaved Spring Vegetables (from “City Kitchen”by David Tanis, June 16, 2011, The New York Times)
For the Vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons lemon juice, or as needed
Finely grated zest of half a lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
4 to 6 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped ( I used a jot of anchovy paste)
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
For the Salad:
2 cups cooked cannellini beans, drained**
Salt and pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
6 to 8 large, fat asparagus spears, snapped and peeled
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed
1 small sweet spring onion, or a few scallions, finely chopped ( I used chives from my garden)
Chopped parsley, basil or dill, for garnish ( I used chervil, it’s one of my favorite herbs)
To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients. Adjust the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. To assemble the salad, place the beans in a large bowl. Pour half the vinaigrette over the beans and toss lightly. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Using a sharp mandolin-and a hand guard-carefully slice the asparagus spears lengthwise to about the thickness of a penny. Slice the radishes and fennel to the same thickness (and carrots, too, if you are using them).
(I use a Japanese Benriner slicer for small quantities like this. The blade is exquisitely sharp, so mind your fingers! You might be able to achieve a similar effect with a sturdy vegetable peeler).
Lay the shaved vegetables and chopped onion or scallions in a shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and dress them very lightly with a few spoonfuls of vinaigrette, turning gently to coat (your hands are the best tool for this). Spoon the beans onto a serving platter or individual plates, then cover the beans with the shaved vegetables. Add a little more vinaigrette over the top. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley, basil, dill (chervil or other soft herbs of your choice).
**To cook dried beans, soak them overnight if you have time. Cover them with water about three times more than their volume, cover the container and leave them on the counter. If your forget this step, use the quick-soak method: Cover the beans with lots of water, bring them to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. Whichever method you use, drain the beans and cover them with fresh water before beginning the cooking process. Place the beans in a pot large enough to accommodate them with plenty of water and a few aromatics, such as parsley stems, thyme sprigs, a bay leaf, a clove of garlic. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer gently until tender. The cooking time will depend on the type and freshness of the beans you are using. There is controversy over when to add salt; some cooks say adding salt at the beginning of cooking prevents beans from becoming uniformly tender. According to Tamar Adler, salt can and should be added at the beginning, along with some good olive oil. Ms. Adler recommends tasting five beans when you check for doneness; they tend to cook at slightly different rates. When all five of your test sample beans are tender all the way through, remove the pot from the heat and allow the beans to cool in their liquid. They can be stored in the refrigerator for two to three days, and frozen for future recipes.