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Using the Old Bean

August 04, 1994|MARIE SIMMONS

Every week I cook a bag of cannellini beans. Also known as white kidney beans, cannellini beans are large in size (like lima beans) but oval in shape (like great northern beans).

An ongoing debate among my fellow cooks is whether it is necessary to soak dried beans before cooking. Sometimes I soak them, and sometimes I don't. Cannellini beans take about 30 minutes longer to cook if they are not soaked first--but the alternative, of course, requires extended preparation before cooking.

Not eating beans is as foreign to me as--well, not eating. Beans are a delicious food, and they just happen to be low in fat, loaded with vitamins and minerals and an excellent source of fiber and complex carbohydrates. They are very inexpensive, and the perfect food for a creative cook.

WHITE BEAN SALAD PLATTER

4 cups cooked white kidney (cannellini) beans

1 cup slivered red onions

1 cup diagonally sliced celery

1/2 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley

Dressing

Curly lettuce leaves

2 ripe red tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

4 hard-cooked eggs, halved

Combine beans, onions, celery and parsley in large bowl. Toss together Dressing and bean mixture. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Arrange border of lettuce on platter or shallow bowl. Spoon bean mixture in center. Place tomato wedges in small bowl. Season with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, dash salt and 1 tablespoon chopped basil. Arrange tomato wedges and egg halves around platter. Sprinkle eggs with remaining 1 tablespoon chopped basil. Makes 4 servings.

Dressing

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar, or more to taste

1 small garlic clove, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

Freshly ground pepper

Whisk together 1/3 cup olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper to taste in separate bowl.

PASTA WITH WHITE BEANS, TOMATOES AND BASIL

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced or crushed

2 to 3 cups cooked, dried white kidney beans or rinsed and drained canned white kidney beans

2 large ripe tomatoes, cored, cut into thin wedges

1/2 cup lightly packed torn fresh basil leaves

Salt, pepper

1 pound pasta (penne, rotelle or medium shells)

1/3 cup reserved pasta cooking liquid

4 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Saute olive oil and garlic in skillet over very low heat until garlic begins to sizzle and turns golden, about 2 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, bring large pan of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, stirring gently, until pasta is al dente. Ladle out 1/3 cup pasta cooking liquid and reserve. Drain pasta.

Toss together pasta, bean mixture and reserved pasta cooking liquid. Sprinkle with cheese and serve. Makes 4 servings.

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