White Beans and Wilted Greens, a nourishing power couple from Alice Waters

Last week was rough. A soothing pot of rice pudding ordinarily is my ultimate comfort food, and could have eased some heartbreakingly difficult decision-making. Instead, a giant bunch of kale–yes, kale, quite opposite from milk+rice+sugar+cinnamon–stared at me from the overpacked refrigerator. I came upon Alice Waters’ recipe for White Beans and Kale in Chez Panisse Vegetables, and the power couple’s effect was magical. The white rice stayed put in the pantry, and instead, this healthy and hearty bowl filled me up, fortified my mind and heart, and soothed a few bittersweet edges. The dish offered nourishment for the incredibly exciting, warm and sunny adventure ahead. It’s a lot to ask for a bowl of beans and greens.

beansandgreens

Not the prettiest, but satisfying, nonetheless. Toast with a good slather of local got cheese completed the meal.

beanscooking

kale

Cannellini Beans and Wilted Greens
From Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables, serves 6-8

Note: I used half the amount of beans originally called for (2 cups), and probably slightly less kale/oil/garlic as well. This recipe is flexible, but cooking the dried beans with the bouquet garni (essentially herbs tied together with twine, or cheesecloth if you’re in a bind) and other aromatics made for incredibly flavorful beans–far better than what’s in a can. But, if you’re short on time, I bet you could easily pop open a can of beans instead, and amp up the garlic and rosemary, and maybe add additional herbs like thyme. Alice Waters also suggests using this as a side dish with poultry, or as a pasta sauce. Mash about half the tender beans and then stir in a sturdy pasta. If it’s too thick, add a little more bean liquid or starchy pasta water.

2 cups dried cannellini beans
Bouquet garni: celery, thyme, parsley, bay leaf
1 onion
1 carrot
6 cups water or chicken stock (I used water)
salt and pepper
1 large bunch chard, kale, spinach, mustard greens or turnip greens (about 1 pound)
6 cloves garlic
5-6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves
extra-virgin olive oil

Soak the beans overnight. The next day drain them and them into a heavy-bottomed pot with the bouquet garni. Add the onion and carrot, peeled. Cover with water or stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, skimming off any foam that forms on the surface. Cook the beans until very tender, from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the age of the beans and how long they were soaked. Salt the beans generously once they start to soften. When fully cooked, remove from the heat. (Update: Ali has other ideas for cooking the beans–with fewer ingredients but just as flavorful, I discovered last night–with a recipe for soup, too.)

While the beans are cooking, wash, trim and chop the greens.

Finely chop the garlic cloves and gently saute them in the olive oil with the rosemary, about 1 minute. (I also cooked a small onion, sliced, for a few minutes before adding the garlic. A pinch of red pepper flakes is also a great addition.) Add the beans and about 1 cup of their cooking liquid, and simmer about 5 minutes, until some of the beans have crumbled apart. Add the greens to the beans, and stew together, uncovered, until the greens are wilted and tender. Add more of the bean liquid, if needed, to keep the vegetables moist and a little soupy. Taste for seasoning and grind in some pepper. Serve with extra-virgin olive oil drizzled over the surface.

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