Food blogging is an endurance sport at the most air-conditioned of times, but in the middle of summer, you really feel like an Olympic marathon runner accessing their deepest well of psychological stamina, with all the bargaining and motivational platitudes one can muster. Or at least, that’s how I felt while simmering a large pan of beans for reasons increasingly lost to me with each passing minute, unable to tell whether I or the beans were currently experiencing more discomfort. My concentration wavered at various stages including one point where I thought I would actually never be finished with making this, and it would just be me and the beans, forevermore.
With all that in mind, why would I then pass this recipe on to you to toil over? Well, presumably you don’t all live in the same violently prickly microclimate as me (by which I mean, the house that I live in is, by some cruel trick of nature, more humid and swampy than anywhere else in the same area code) and if you have your wits about you, this dish is incredibly rewarding and delicious. And even I, with my wits absolutely not about me, still managed to make it and found it to be both these things.
In this recipe, cannellini beans are sent off in three directions and then brought back together in a fantastic crescendo; mashed, blitzed into a garlic-heavy aioli, and dressed with infused oil. It’s a recipe from Ottolenghi Flavour, written by Ottolenghi himself and Ixta Belfrage, and I am quite sure that given a more temperate climate, the hardest part would be remembering to soak the beans overnight beforehand.
What all this effort gets you—and it’s really more time-consuming than effortful, there is a significant difference, as Nigella taught me—is a side dish or snack of self-possessed simplicity, as ivory-neutral and elegant as Shiv Roy’s high-waisted slacks. And I think, very subconsciously, this simile may have drawn me to the recipe in the first place. Alongside the beans is a garlic-infused olive oil which informs all three components, and the result is rich, mellow, heady with garlic but not the slightest bit acrid. I was a bit nervous for some reason about presenting this to my family (once again, I blame the heat), like, it’s just a big plate of beans on beans on beans, and I know beans are the best but how do I explain what I’ve got myself into, but everyone not only got what I was going for, they all ate it enthusiastically. Anything less than enthusiasm probably would’ve been the undoing of me at that point but I trust my own tastebuds and they say: this is good stuff.
Ottolenghi’s White Bean Mash with Garlic Aioli (or, Cannellini Beans Three Ways)
Very minimally adapted from Ottolenghi Flavour, this takes a bag of dried legumes and turns it into mash, aioli, and, of course, actual beans, all infused one way or another with slow-simmered garlic oil, chilli and herbs. It’s somehow very low-effort and quite strenuous all at once but very worth it, and it makes an excellent side dish for almost anything, or an elegant snack for swiping at with bread and crackers alongside other dips and bits. I freely admit that my alterations mostly came from a place of being flustered and overheated rather than thinking I could do better than the original.
- 350g dried cannellini beans
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 spring onion (or use a regular onion)
- 10 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 3 sprigs of thyme
- 1 red chilli, stem and seeds removed
- 200ml olive oil
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons Chinkiang vinegar (black vinegar)
- Juice of one lime
- salt and pepper, to taste
- extra thyme and rosemary, to serve
1: The day before you intend to make this, soak the beans in a bowl with plenty of cold water and the teaspoon of baking soda. I kept mine in the fridge since it’s so hot at the moment but if your kitchen is cool they should be safe, covered, on the bench. Either way, check once or twice to see if the water levels need topping up.
2: Drain the beans and place them in a large saucepan with the trimmed spring onion, (or the peeled and quartered onion as the original recipe suggests), and cover with plenty of water. Bring to the boil—I placed a lid half-on to hasten the water along—and then lower the heat and simmer for around fifty minutes or until the beans are completely tender. Top up with extra water at any stage if needed, and once cooked, drain the beans well under cool water and set aside. At this point you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days.
3: While the beans are cooking, make the infused oil. Place the 10 garlic cloves, two sprigs of rosemary, three sprigs of thyme, and the red chilli (which I sliced up but you don’t actually need to) into a saucepan that you have a lid for. Pour the olive oil into the pan and place it on a medium low heat, covered, till the garlic cloves are lightly golden and soft to the prod of a wooden spoon. I kept the heat very low – a tiny bit of bubbling is fine, I think, but you don’t want the herbs deep frying in there. This is more of a slowwww warm bath. Once the garlic is soft and golden, remove the pan from the heat and let it sit for ten minutes, although longer is fine. At this point you can transfer it to an airtight container and keep it in the fridge for up to three days. If you’re using it right away, discard the herbs and set aside the chilli, garlic cloves and the oil.
4: Now that the beans are cooked and the oil is infused, we can actually make the three components of the finished dish. First: the dressed beans. Stir 150g of the cooked beans in a bowl with the teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, 3 tablespoons of your garlic-infused oil, and plenty of salt and pepper. Set aside.
5: Secondly, the aioli. Place all the garlic cloves into a food processor along with 100g of the cooked beans, the tablespoon of dijon mustard, the juice of half the lime, 75ml of the oil (that’s 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon), a splash of water, and plenty of salt and pepper. Blitz thoroughly till it’s thick and creamy as aioli should be. Spatula this delicious mixture out to a bowl or container.
6: Then, the final component, the mashed beans. Without washing out the processor, tip in the remaining cooked beans, along with the two teaspoons of Chinkiang vinegar, the juice of the remaining half of the lime, plenty of salt and pepper, and—if you used a whole onion—throw that in, too, and process to a creamy thick mash. I somehow completely missed the onion-adding step, and also didn’t have an onion anyway, just a spring onion which was entirely too limp after cooking the beans to be of any use, but it still ended up tasting fantastic.
7: Finally-finally, the assembly: Spatula the mashed beans onto a wide plate or large, shallow bowl, and spread it around thickly. Spoon the aioli on top, and then tumble over your cooked, dressed beans. Let any remaining infused oil fall from its container onto this pale plate, and then sprinkle over more fresh rosemary and thyme leaves. If you have Alleppo chilli flakes, this is what is recommended by Ottolenghi to serve, and I would certainly back up this recommendation, but I don’t have any. In lieu, the herbs are quite fine. And if you want to scatter over the chopped red chilli from the oil, now would be the time.
Serves 4 as a side, maybe 6-8 as part of a larger table of snacks or mezze.
- I found dried cannellini beans at my nearest Asian supermarket, and nowhere else, and they were labelled “white kidney beans”. Since that supermarket is by far my preferred outlet this was not a problem, but consider this a heads up in case you were looking for the beans in a nationwide franchise-type supermarket.
- As well as blanking on the onion in the mash I also forgot completely to account for the dill that Ottolenghi instructs you to add to the dressed beans, and the anchovies that he uses in the aioli—not that I’d be eating anchovies, but I didn’t replace them with anything. Nonetheless, this still tasted so good.
- As I didn’t have the lemon juice the original required I used apple cider vinegar, lime juice, and black vinegar, but if you have actual lemons (probably a higher likelihood than having all three of the former ingredients) he specifies one and a half tablespoons juice in the dressed beans, 2 tablespoon in the aioli, 2 and a half tablespoons of juice in the mashed beans.
I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City by Harry Nilsson, simply one of the most lovely songs ever written. When the verse goes—up? Like that? That’s the ticket! I am also partial to Sherie Rene Scott’s version from her Broadway show Everyday Rapture, the minimal production and her mellow voice suit the melody beautifully.
The Big E, by A Certain Ratio, surely one of the most comforting and reassuring songs from the post-punk scene with its insistence of “I won’t stop loving you, I still believe in you”.
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