Summer White Bean Ragout with Toasts
Well, I’m pleased to say that summer has finally hit Washington. By summer, I mean when you go to sleep without any sheets or blankets on, and when you wake up with the sun hitting you through the windows. When you have to spend the middle of the day in a swimsuit on the beach, and when turning on the oven is absolutely not an option (you’d be surprised how warm and inviting baking usually sounds most usual overcast and chilly Northwest summer mornings).
There’s a funny little thing about people in the Northwest with weather. They like to complain most of the year when it’s gloomy, overcast, and drizzly, yet when the sun finally shines and the heat is packed on, they complain it’s too hot. I guess they’re a hard crowd to please. I must have not been destined to be a Northwesterner (is that a word?), because I quite know what I like when it comes to the weather, and the sun is most definitely involved. I love walking outdoors and feeling the heat as if it were pounding on your bare arms, and wearing a swimsuit about 80% of the day. I’ll even take the whole no-oven thing. Besides, a lot of food is fine just as it is this time of year—not much messing around involved.
This dish here does require a little bit of work, as in you have to turn on the burner, and broiler. Also, the resulting dish, delicious though it is, does happen to be warm. Something to keep in mind if the weather is so hot that it’s more of a grilled-meat-and-fresh-salad kinda night. (Speaking of which, I have an awesome salad to share with you soon. Yes, be excited.)
Anyway, this dish is relaxed and a little bit lazy—just like how the days have been dripping by here lately. The original recipe requires soffritto, a flavor base built from simmering aromatics in lots of good olive oil for almost half an hour, which Bon Appetit tells me would form a foundation of flavor for whatever sauces or soups I would add it in. To me it just sounds a bit like homemade bouillon, but who am I to know? Reader, please enlighten me if you know more about this than I do. But, I made the soffritto anyway, set aside 1/2 cup for the bean ragout, and set the rest to freezer in ice-cube sized portions to be used to flavor some other things in the future. I must admit it was quite the scene to watch it bubble away in a pool of olive oil until it practically melted into a deep, darkened caramelized mush.
After making the initial batch of soffritto, the rest of this dish came together easy, easy, easy. It’s basically the cheap-classic-simple dish of beans and toast, adjusted for the summer with the addition of some ripe cherry tomatoes. Don’t be deceived by its simplicity though: when you’re mopping up the sauce with the crusty, olive-oil drizzled bread, while getting as many plump beans and juicy tomatoes as can fit in one bite, the concepts of ease, or time, have no place. It’s just good. For how easy (especially if you’ve got that soffritto already stored away) and cheap it was, and considering how very, very good it ended up tasting, I’ll be making this throughout the year, with or without the tomatoes, and with or without the sun.
Summer White Bean Ragout with Toasts
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2012
Serves 4 to 6
Some quick things to note. The soffritto isn’t mandatory, but it does add a great depth of flavor. If you don’t want to go through the trouble (slight though it is) of making it, I’d saute some onions and garlic first before adding the beans. Or add some flavor from something like Better than Bouillon’s vegetable flavor base.
1 garlic, halved
4-6 1-inch thick slices ciabatta or good bread (preferably pre-grilled)
about 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup sofrito (see recipe below)
2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
few tablespoons parsley, chopped, for garnish
Set the oven on its broiler setting, or, like me, set the broiler setting on a toaster oven. Rub bread slices with the cut sides of the garlic. Place bread on a baking sheet and cover with roughly a good tablespoon of the grated parmesan over each slice. Toast in the oven until the cheese browns a little, about a couple minutes.
Heat the sofrito and beans in a skillet (preferably the same one you cooked the sofrito in), over medium-high heat until heated through, about 1 minute. Stir in the vegetable broth; bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to bring the mixture to a simmer. Continue to simmer, scraping up the the browned bits from the bottom of the pan every once in awhile, until liquid has thickened a bit, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and let simmer in the mixture for about 3 or 4 minutes more, or to your liking. Stir in a couple tablespoons of parmesan, and season well with salt and pepper.
To serve, place a piece of bread in a shallow bowl, or a plate with a little depth to it. Top with a good few spoonfuls of the bean-tomato mixture with its juices and broth. Garnish with a good drizzle of olive oil, some shavings of parmesan, and a sprinkle of parsley.
Onion, Bell Pepper, Tomato and Garlic Soffritto
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 garlic cloves, finely grated
2 teaspoons tomato paste
Pulse onions in a food processor until finely chopped but not pureed. It should total about 2 cups. Transfer to a medium bowl. Next, pulse the bell pepper in the food processor until finely chopped, but not puree. This amount should total about 1 cup. Add to the bowl and mix well.
Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Carefully add the onion-bell pepper mixture (it may splatter a bit), and season liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. Simmer, stirring often, until vegetables are completely softened and caramelized looking, about a full 25 to 30 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring often, for about 3 more minutes until the mixture turns a deep, dark red-brown. Remove from heat. Measure 1/2 cup soffritto and set aside for the bean ragout. Transfer remaining soffritto to a container an let cool completely, uncovered. Cover and store in the fridge for up to 4 days or freeze for up to a few months.