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White Bean, Sage & Roasted Garlic Spread

This is the last of the winter night’s menu that I’ll post.  There’s something both humble and luxurious about this little spread. These little white beans, so tender and plain, so very “ordinary”, haven’t an egotistical bone in their little kidney-shaped bodies.  So that’s what makes this dish humble. But the luxurious comes from the slow-cooking, the perfect herbal blend of bay leaf and sage, the aromatic sweetness and warmth of roasted garlic, the touch of richness from the olive oil, and a sunny squeeze of lemon, all puréed to silkiness. (Please don’t be put off by the large quantity of garlic called for in this recipe. I assure you that, thanks to the roasting, the ultimate taste is mild and sweet.)

White Bean, Sage, and Roasted Garlic Spread

(adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, an older favorite of mine, by Deborah Madison)

  • 1-1/2 cups of dried navy beans or cannellini, soaked and drained (see NOTE)
  • 5 garlic cloves, skins removed
  • 10 sage leaves
  • 2 bay leaves (if your bay is more than a year-old, start with new – it makes such a difference)
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1 whole head garlic, outermost papery husk removed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon (or more)
  • 1 T chopped fresh thyme (see variations)
  • Herbes de Provence (optional)

 Boil the beans in a large pot with water enough to cover by 2 inches for 10 minutes.  Lower the heat and add the 5 cloves of garlic, the sage leaves and bay leaves and only 2 teaspoons of the olive oil.  Simmer, covered, until the beans are tender, about 1-1/2 hours.  (You can also put them in the oven at 350°F for the same amount of time. Since you’ll also be roasting garlic for this recipe at the same temperature, you may want to use the oven.)  Once the beans are tender, remove the bay leaves and drain, reserving the broth.


Meanwhile, if your beans are cooking on the stovetop, preheat your oven to 350°F.  Cut off the top 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch of the garlic head and rub it with a little of the remaining olive oil. Put it in a small baking dish, and add 1/3 cup of water. Cover and bake until soft and lightly caramelized, about 45 minutes. Cool, then squeeze out the softened garlic. Purée the beans in a food processor with all the garlic, the remaining olive oil (approximately 2 T), 1 teaspoon salt, and enough of the reserved bean broth to give the beans a soft, spreadable consistency. Season to taste with lemon juice and pepper, and taste again for salt. You’re sure to need more.  (I prefer a more lemony spread, so I use the juice of nearly 2 lemons, depending on their size. Go slow and taste as you go til it’s just right for your taste.)  Stir in the thyme leaves and serve either warm or at room temperature.  For serving, I like to drizzle ours with a little extra olive oil, chopped fresh parsley or thyme, freshly ground pepper and some crushed Herbes de Provence.

Variations: In the summer months, omit the sage and roasted garlic and add instead one cup of basil leaves and 2 garlic cloves pureed in 1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil.  Or add in place of the basil, one cup of flat Italian parsley.

Serving Suggestions: This is delicious on crostini.  (Simply brush olive oil, with a touch of salt & pepper, onto sliced French or Italian bread and toast in your oven, in a panini pan or on the grill.) Also good as part of a vegetarian sandwich, with roasted bell peppers, cucumber, cheese, etc. Good (and healthy) too as a dip for vegetables.  Or as an accompaniment to a summer grilled meal outdoors.  And of course, as part of an appetizer course for those bigger dinners with guests. My husband and I will sometimes have a dinner plate with this spread, crostini, olives, a big beautiful green salad taking up half the plate, maybe a hard-cooked egg or slice of good cheese or a piece of cold fish or chicken leftover from the night before.

NOTE on beans: For those of you unfamiliar with working with dried beans — home-cooking your own beans as opposed to using canned obviously requires more forethought and overall prep time. Once you’ve tried both, though, you’ll find that the difference really is noticeable. Home-cooked beans have more depth of flavor – especially with the sort of aromatics they’ve been cooked with here – and a better texture. But sometimes, something just has to go, so don’t hesitate trying this recipe if what you have is more canned beans than time.  If using dry beans, you can “soak” them one of two ways.  The traditional method is to cover with several inches of water and soak overnight for use the next day.  But there’s also the “quick-soak method” in which you put the beans in a pot, covered by several inches of water, and boil for five minutes, then allow the beans to soak for several hours before using in your recipe.  In both cases, when the beans have soaked, drain the soaking water and start anew with fresh.

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