Garlicky White Beans in Olive Oil

White Beans 2

Between work and weekends away, September was full. I started the month by participating in two back-to-back swim races—the first a 2-mile swim in the Merrimack River, and the second a 1.4-mile ocean swim in Cape Cod. I should probably preface this all by first telling you this: swimming in races, or competitively at all, is very new to me. I’ve never been on a swim team, or done a triathlon, or anything like that. I swam a lot as a kid, but that’s about it.

My close friend, Jen, however, is an accomplished swimmer and equally great cheerleader. After a few lessons with her last year (in which I actually learned to breathe properly while doing laps—eureka!), I felt good enough to try the 1-mile version of the Merrimack swim. I survived, and vowed to do it again this year, only this time aiming to complete the 2-mile stretch instead of the one. I also decided to finally join her for the ocean race, which I wussed out of last year because 1) shark sightings, 2) choppy waves, and 3) fear of swimming the wrong way into the great abyss.

Swim Race

Alas, both were great events. Exhausting and humbling too (the 60-70 year old bracket is NO JOKE). My favorite by far was the ocean swim. Over 400 swimmers, amazing views, great crowd, and a chance to swim in the open ocean—it was a really cool 53 minute moment.

After the swims followed a work trip to Pennsylvania (during which I also visited my sister and her family, woohoo), and then my birthday. And here we are. October. One of my very favorite months. For eating and for just being. And also for wearing scarves.

Continuing on this fall theme, I’ve wanted to post this recipe for white beans for a while now. I have been making them for years and it’s another staple in our house, especially in these cooler, heartier months. We eat beans and lentils a lot, a fact which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. They’re such a great protein source and I find them especially perfect for incorporating into packed lunches.

This particular recipe is dead easy too—cook your white beans (or use canned), then simmer them in olive oil, garlic, and maybe a few spices until they’re silky smooth and flavorful. The recipe is very similar to the garlic confit I talked about here (tip #7), but probably even more versatile. You can eat the warm beans and oil with bread, toss with pasta, mix into salad (the oil is an instant dressing), spoon over cooked chicken and rice, or purée into hummus. And because oil is a natural food preserver, you can keep a jar in your fridge indefinitely, pulling it out whenever inspiration, or time, is running low.

Garlicky White Beans in Olive Oil
You can always use canned white beans in place of cooking your own—I just prefer doing it myself as it’s cheaper and I prefer the taste. If you end up cooking too many beans, just toss the extra in a freezer bag and lay flat to freeze (as I mention here—see tip #4), then crack off a chunk whenever you need them.

1 cup dried white beans (navy, cannellini, “small white,” or whatever you like), soaked overnight in water
Olive oil (I prefer “light” not extra-virgin for this, because you’re heating it)
Kosher salt
6 to 7 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
Spices: red pepper flakes, dried basil, oregano, etc.

[If you’re using canned beans, skip directly to the next paragraph.] Drain and rinse the soaked beans and transfer to a cooking pot. Cover with at least one inch of water and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until tender—this usually takes around 20 to 30 minutes but will depend on the size of the bean and how long you’ve soaked them for. You want them cooked all the way through and somewhat tender, but not falling apart.

Drain the beans well and return to the pot. Cover with enough olive oil to cover by about 1-inch. Yes, it’s a lot of oil, but it can be used/re-used in tons of ways! Even if you end up eating all the beans out of it later, the garlic-infused oil that remains is great as a salad dressing, as a bread dip, or drizzled over pasta.

Heat the beans and oil on low until you start to hear the oil sizzling a bit, but not popping like crazy, which would be dangerous. Add the salt (a generous amount—I probably use a teaspoon of kosher salt at least), garlic, and any spices you like. I use the three spices listed above—a big pinch of each. You’ll have to taste as you go along for seasonings, but just add whatever looks good to you. You could also add garlic powder, fresh herbs, or even a few tablespoons of pesto.

Cook on low for 20 minutes or so, until the seasonings are fragrant and the beans are really tender—it’s okay if they start falling apart. Just be careful not to let the garlic brown (instead of leaving them whole, you can also finely grate/microplane the cloves, which allows them to just melt into the oil—both are excellent).

Once the beans are silky smooth, remove from heat, cover, and let sit until warm but not hot. Serve however you like (see suggestions above), or transfer to a large glass jar and refrigerate—it will last indefinitely so long as the oil is covering the beans completely. I’d argue it even gets better with age.

White Beans 3

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