When you’ve cooked professionally and catered incessantly, you can’t just walk into a shindig empty handed — or with something too slapdash. You know that you can’t get away with a simple cheese platter, or a store-bought dip or appetizer without a little razzing. People expect more. Chances are you will become invisible as you walk in the door — all eyes will be on what you are holding. And it had better be good. Not fancy, mind you — just damn tasty.
One day recently I forgot I was committed to a cocktail date at 5 p.m. — and it was less than thirty minutes away. Did I panic? No. A quick look confirmed that I had just a few things on hand that would allow me to pull out something presentable. I turned on the oven, and got busy.
Canned white beans (also known to some as cannelini beans) are always in my cupboard, and my secret weapon for last-minute eats. I can warm them through with a little garlic and chicken stock and make that my bed for a grilled chop. I can add them to arugula and frisee for some desirable heft in a midday salad.
Or I can do what I did here — drain and rinse and then give them a quick whirl in the food processor with lemon juice (I used both regular and Meyer lemon juice), olive oil, garlic, a pinch of ground fennel and cumin and puree until velvety. The end result is luscious, and is spectacular served simply on crostini with either diced tomatoes, or thinly shaved fennel or cucumber (I have also done this with roasted eggplant and it too was delicious).
If you inhabit a world in which crudites are preferable to crostini, first off, wow (and maybe that is why you are rocking those skinny jeans and I am not). Secondly, this one is one is great for you, too; it’s always appealing with carrots, celery — you name it. If you substitute some of the recommended olive oil for more water, this will make you feel even more virtuous.
(Should you find yourself with leftovers, the spread is fantastic in place of mayonnaise in a sandwich; one of my favorite combos pairs this spread with smoked turkey, avocado, feta and spinach. Yes sirree.)
So I made the spread while the bread toasted and I still had time to throw on some lipstick and pearls. By then the toasts were perfect, so I added the spread. I topped with tomatoes (flavored with just a touch of sherry vinegar, olive oil and salt) and some great Israeli feta. I headed over to the party.
You’d think I had walked in with mini-lobster rolls judging by the excitement garnered by the dish. Not sure why — I think it was just the pop of color from the tomatoes and the promise of a break from the traditional cheese platter. Or was it the waft of sauteed garlic that had everyone salivating?
I almost felt guilty about how easy it was to pull together, but who cares if something delicious takes 2 minutes or 2 days to make? Do you think your taste buds care?
Good is just good. And I was that much more relaxed and happy to go to another party because I hadn’t broken my neck or spent a small fortune on imported delicacies.
- 1 can white (cannelini) beans, drained and rinsed
- 1-2 cloves garlic, cut into thin slices
- ¼ C. olive oil
- juice and zest of 1 lemon (about ¼ C.)
- ⅛ tsp. ground fennel
- ⅛ tsp. ground cumin
- roughly 2 pinches salt (canned brands vary in saltiness)
- 1-2 Tbs. warm water
- cracked pepper
- Put garlic in olive oil and allow to gently steep over medium heat until it starts to turn golden. Remove from heat.
- Add all ingredients except for lemon zest in food processor or blender. Puree until desired consistency. Add a little water, 1 Tbs. at a time, until desired consistency -- less so if you are looking for more heft, more if you are looking for spreadable consistency.
- Season to taste with salt and top with lemon zest and cracked pepper.