Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Day 3: Tuscan White Beans with Crispy Sage and Garlic
Let's get things rolling with a most basic, rustic bean dish: Tuscan White Beans. It involves just a handful of basic ingredients--oil, garlic, sage, beans--combined for maximum flavor. This dish is an interpretation of a traditional Tuscan preparation, fagioli al fiasco which, given the Collapse Of Everything, seems really appropriate these days, no? (Fiasco is actually Italian for "flask" because the beans are slow-cooked in a giant flask of olive oil, but that isn't funny at all.) These beans, adapted from Sally Schneider's recipe in A New Way To Cook, are very low in fat and calories, criminally easy, and astonishingly tasty. You can use any white bean (Great Northern, navy, cannellini) you have on hand.
Though this simple preparation is a ideal for flavorful, freshly-cooked beans, you can certainly use canned. The consensus among foodie authorities is that GOYA brand are the tastiest canned option. If you can't find them on the bean aisle at your supermarket, try looking with the Hispanic foods.
If you do use canned, be sure to give them a thorough rinse and drain before proceeding.
First off: thinly slice several heads of garlic, six or even more if you love garlic.
Add the garlic to your largest non-stick skillet, warmed over medium-low heat with two tablespoons of olive oil. Cover the pan and let the garlic cook for about five minutes, untouched.
When the garlic is toasty and golden, transfer it to a small bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the pan.
Now you'll need a half-cup to cup of fresh sage leaves, either a handful of wee little leaves or large leaves sliced on the bias. Or a combination of both; just use whatever you have!
The fresh sage is potentially the most expensive part of this dish, but is damn near free if you grow it yourself. Also, it looks exactly like lizard skin but tastes lovely and smells like Thanksgiving and how many foods can say that?
I love sage and, like so many things in life, it is only going to be more magical after we fry it. Add the sage leaves to the hot oil in one layer and let them sizzle away. Little bubbles will form around the edges and the sage will gradually darken. No need to turn them: just let them cook. After the leaves are crispy (about five to eight minutes)...
...transfer them to a paper towel to drain.
Now you have one pan coated with hot, garlicky, sage-y oil. To this pan add about 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable sauce and bring to a low boil. If you like things on the saucy side, err towards more stock.
Add your drained beans to the hot pan and warm through, stirring gently, for about three to five minutes. I like my beans piping hot, but not so hot that they turn to mush. Once warm, liberally salt and pepper the beans to your taste. I go a little aggressive on the seasoning to combat the unrelenting natural blandness of beans.
Divide the beans into four servings and sprinkle each liberally with crispy sage and garlic.
Serve with some nice crusty bread, and you've got dinner for four, or a nice side dish to a piece of grilled meat. (Enjoy that job while it lasts, lucky.) It is rustic and warm and filling, and the crispy sage really elevates the whole affair, completely eclipsing the reality of a meal that costs just a few dimes per serving. Fiasco? What fiasco?
(Print-ready recipe here.)
Tuscan Beans with Crispy Sage and Garlic
serves 4 as a main dish
3 cups cooked white beans (or 2 cans, drained and rinsed)
2 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive oil
6 large garlic cloves, sliced thin
30-ish small leaves of sage (or about 1/2 cup sliced sage)
¼ to ½ cup low-sodium chicken (or vegetable) broth
kosher salt and ground pepper
Warm the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet set on medium-low heat. Add garlic and cover the pan, cooking until garlic is golden, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic to a small bowl and set aside.
Increase heat to medium, add the sage leaves to the oil, and cook until the oil is fragrant and the sage becomes darker and crispy. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sage to a paper-towel-lined dish to drain.
Add the chicken broth to the pan, bring to a boil, and add beans, tossing gently until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Divide beans into four bowls, topping each serving liberally with frizzled sage and garlic.