White Beans for Summer
by Kate Heyhoe
As every fashion conscious person knows, white is *the* color of summer. Pure white linen jackets, white shorts with a faint eggshell hue, white capri's paired with white sandals, white Keds with white anklets, white khakis with plain white cotton t-shirts, white caps and hats to protect us from the sun. White from head to toe.
White is the amalgamation of all light in the spectrum, and its attraction in hot weather can be magnetic. It cools us, relieves us, relaxes us. White stands firmly on its own, or plays merrily with day-glo surfers' colors, pastels, checks and stripes, navy blues, earth tones, and even contrasts harmoniously with its essential opposite: black (the absence of light).
In the eating arena, summer white can be found in such forms as soft, fresh mozzarella cheese, chicken salads with white meat and white mayo, the inner crumb of fresh baked Italian and French breads, thin sliced white Vidalia onions, and my favorite white food for lazy, hot weather days, white beans.
White beans come in many varieties: cannellini beans, small white Navy beans, Great Northern beans, marrow beans, and others. (Though different in taste and texture, garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, stick in my mind as the khaki-style brethren of pure white beans.) White beans make soups in winter, but in summer, they splash around with vinaigrettes, shrimp, pastas, tomatoes, grilled vegetables, fresh herbs and endless other ingredients to make salads, al fresco lunches and dinners, picnic portables, spreadable dips, summery side dishes and meatless main courses. They are the designer food of the season—always classic in style, never loud or overstated.
Now is the time to simmer up a large pot of cooked white beans—then freeze them in batches for summer use. You can, of course, use white beans from cans, but that's like swapping 100% cotton for 100% polyester. Both look the part, but one has a texture, feeling, and natural freshness that can't be replaced. Cooking a batch of white beans from scratch is easy, and the results make it overwhelmingly worthwhile.
White beans are sweet. They have a natural sweetness to them that other beans can't quite emulate, and this is what I believe is their best asset. For my summer meals, I usually prefer Great Northerns—they're of medium size (larger than peas and smaller than Lima beans) and found in all markets. They adapt well to pastas and salads, being neither too large nor too small. Navy beans are about the size of a pea, and they're usually the beans used for making traditional baked beans. If you prefer a smaller sized bean in your ingredients, use a navy bean. The off-white or ecru colored garbanzos, as I have mentioned, are entirely different in shape and taste, but they are so well suited to summer dishes, I recommend cooking up a batch of them as well. The Italians mix garbanzo beans with salami and marinated vegetables for a salad, the Arabs mash them into hummus to spread on pita bread, and the Spanish simmer them with sausages and garlic.
This weekend, whip up a batch of Classic White Beans, then adapt them into summer recipes, such as a White Bean Salad, or create a White Bean and Seafood Linguine, White Bean Dip, or a Cold White Bean Soup. Yours will undoubtedly be the best dressed plates in the neighborhood.
Kate's White Bean Recipes:
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Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created May 1999