September 27, 2014
There’s something perversely satisfying about a pile of decaying shelling beans. They don't look like much – all black freckles, and yellowing skins – but when you pull them apart you find shiny beans the color of pearls.
In years past, shelling beans came and went with little fanfare. But this year's different: nearly every farmers market stall is bursting with fresh legumes. Fresh cannellini, fresh black-eyed peas…I've even seen fresh black beans. Somehow it was these sad-looking canary beans that captured my imagination. Native to Peru, where they're called mayacobas, they resemble especially buttery cannellini beans. Eaten raw they're reminiscent of tarbais, the traditional cassoulet bean. Cooked, they make a really wonderful dip.
A few notes: You want the ugly, slightly yellowing beans (they're the ripest), but avoid the slimy ones. When they're too far gone they start to rot. Be sure to use good olive oil; it's a dominant flavor in the dip. Add whatever fresh herbs you favor, but not so many that they mask the gentle flavor of the beans. Myself, I like the slight zip that comes with a small sprinkling of scallion and chives.
Fresh White Bean Dip
1 pound fresh canary shelling beans, shelled
1-2 cloves garlic
Good olive oil
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 lemon wedge
Shell your beans, making sure to discard any individual beans that are beginning to rot. Put them in a heavy pot, cover them with water, bring them to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until they're completely tender. Add salt at the end and turn off the flame. (I find that salting beforehand makes for a slightly tougher bean.)
While the beans are cooking, mince the garlic, chives, and scallions. Finely chop the parsley.
Strain the beans, saving the cooking liquid. Toss them into a food processor, add a splash of the cooking liquid and a good glug of olive oil and blend, adjusting the consistency with the cooking liquid. Add another good glug of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Add just enough garlic for it to enhance, and not overpower, the beans. Squeeze the lemon wedge over the beans, add a quarter teaspoon of vinegar and taste to see if you want to add more.
Stir in the herbs, adjust the seasoning, and serve with a little bit more olive oil splashed across the top. This is great with crusty bread or focaccia.
Makes 4-6 appetizer servings.
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