"I wish we knew some farmers who grow dry edible beans," I said to Tony as we were staging the photo shoot for this week featuring a versatile dish we call North Dakota White Bean Puree. I knew from our experience with last summer's Banquet in a Field that North Dakota is the leading producer of dry edible beans, with varieties including pinto, black and dark and light red kidney beans, navy and great northern, and I wanted to know more about these crops.
Ask and you shall receive. Just a few hours later, a young farm couple from Alice, N.D., came to Sarello's for dinner, and before they left they extended an invitation to Tony to have our family visit their farm, where they grow a variety of crops including - you guessed it - dry edible beans.
I practically squealed with delight when Tony shared this with me because we've also been invited back to chair the food and menu committee for the 2015 Banquet in a Field, which will take place at Peterson Farms Seed on Aug. 4. Once again, we will feature almost a dozen appetizers inspired by North Dakota's leading crops, which include dry edible beans, soybeans, corn, sugar beets, flax, canola, durum, spring wheat, sunflowers, barley and potatoes. This year we'd like to tell the story of these crops, following each all the way from seed to banquet, and the more farmers we know, the better.
We'll be testing a whole host of new recipes for this event, and this white bean puree could be a very strong contender. For this recipe, Tony used one can of great northern beans; navy or cannellini beans would also work well. Other ingredients are garlic, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, crushed red pepper flakes, fresh thyme or parsley, salt, pepper and paprika for a garnish. Aside from the fresh herbs, this recipe features ingredients that are common pantry staples, making it a perfect dish to prepare in a pinch.
Great northern beans are an excellent source of fiber, iron, potassium and protein, and adding them to your diet on a regular basis may improve digestion and reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes. They are small and delicate, with a mild, nutty flavor and slightly grainy texture which translate well for this puree.
We love the versatility of beans in general, and this white bean puree in particular, which is inexpensive and easy to make, packed with flavor, and can be made several days in advance. We often enjoy it atop crostini with a dollop of zucchini relish, as a condiment on sandwiches or as a dip with hearty crackers. It also makes a wonderful side dish to serve with meat or seafood, and for an elegant presentation Tony will create a base with the puree, which is then topped with grilled steak, salmon or, in this case, seared scallops.
All you'll need to make our white bean puree are the ingredients and a food processor. Everything but the fresh herbs and paprika goes into the food processor, and within about five minutes from start to finish you'll have a dish ready to serve. Any leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
We look forward to exploring North Dakota's agriculture in greater depth this year, and we'll be sure to share any new recipes with you along the way.
North Dakota White Bean Puree
Makes about 2 cups
1 15-ounce can great northern beans (navy or cannellini also work)
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil - reserve 1 tablespoon for garnish
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or finely chopped parsley
½ teaspoon paprika
Extra virgin olive oil
Place all ingredients in the food processor, except the fresh herbs and paprika, and blend for about 2 to 3 minutes until smooth in texture. If the mixture is too thick, you can add 1 tablespoon of water and mix again for a few seconds.
Once the puree is ready, place in a serving bowl and garnish the top with fresh thyme leaves or chopped parsley, paprika and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Can be served immediately but even better if refrigerated for at least two hour before serving.
Store in refrigerator for up to one week.
• As a spread atop crostini and in a sandwich
• As a starch-substitute with meat and seafood - for an elegant presentation place the puree underneath scallops, steak and fish.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 10-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine//thelostitalian.areavoices.com.