Sometimes the simplest things really are the best. I’d planned to cook, eat, and write about an elaborate dish on my day off. It would be exciting, colorful, and completely novel. It would also somehow incorporate soaked and mostly-cooked white beans, which I had leftover. After a morning of deliberation and preparation, it was done: sour citrus wedges, briny olives and mealy white beans, unexpectedly brought to congress with plenty drizzles of olive oil. But once it was photographed and poised to be eaten, I found that I didn’t really want to shovel it down. It was just a bit much.
So, turning my attention to the remaining cup or so of white beans that weren’t used up — yet again, the poor runts — I made a puree with their soaking water, and a minced clove of garlic. It was the same extra-large heirloom cannellini beans that I’d used in a cassoulet a week ago, but any white bean would suffice here just as deliciously. I wouldn’t call this a soup, though, as it was too purely beans to be anything else (it had a dash of olive oil to sizzle the garlic with, and salt and pepper, too). But if you ever need something that satisfies like a soup, and have those four ingredients, then this makes a fabulous last-minute stand-in.
The poached egg placed on top cinched the deal for this meal superseding the last one for me. A soft-cooked egg just makes me melt. It gives any dish a pool of pure richness with its yolk. It’s a touch of sunshine, especially needed for a food that has no color to speak of otherwise (murky white bean puree). Don’t cheat yourself of its full potential with an egg that wasn’t laid from a cage-free hen, perhaps fed some protein by a conscientious farmer — a good egg like this is worth its price.
“This is what you eat when there’s nothing to eat,” my mom used to say whenever she was cooking eggs at an odd time of the day (aka not the morning). Usually, she’d serve one over leftover rice, which she watered down to make soupy with just that — water. She’d splash the bowl with soy sauce to finish, then break up the egg with her chopsticks. And that was that, a filling, simple snack or pseudo-meal, for when there’s “nothing” else to eat. I could eat this when there is, however. Plus, an egg (like beans, which are packed with carbs as well as protein) just sates the hunger so well. I don’t think the satisfaction needs to owe anything to comfort-food fondness, either. Statistically speaking, an egg cooked in no oil is about 50 calories. Two of them, and you’ve got what a 100-calorie snack pack will provide you, damage-wise. I’ve been a fan of carrying around hard-boiled eggs instead — they’re wrapped, naturally, in their shell, and they’re the perfect, compact size for snacking. Really. Try it sometime.
In any case, making this recipe — and putting away the first attempted one — reminded me that a couple of drab-sounding ingredients can turn out to be pretty stunning: a bowl of beans, an egg. Like modern artists, who were trained to paint like the Renaissance ones, but ultimately went back to spreading colors around like when they were three, cooking can benefit from such an innate approach. And believe me, if you’re trying to make it every day, then this is usually the preferred path.
White Bean Puree with Poached Egg
(makes 1 serving)
1 cup white beans, soaked overnight and cooked in water until tender, water to cover retained
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
salt and black pepper to taste
In a small pot, heat the olive oil and the garlic for about 1 minute, until just sizzling. Add the beans and their cooking water. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Use an immersion blender or transfer to a food processor to puree. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Bring a separate small pot of water to boil, and add the vinegar. Crack the egg into a small bowl. Turn off heat completely, and slowly drop the egg into the pot of water. Cover pot and let sit for about 5 minutes to poach. Carefully lift the poached egg with a slotted spoon and top on a bowl of the bean puree. Serve immediately.
(for 1 serving)
1 cup cooked runner cannellini beans (from a 5-lb bag for $25): $1.00
1 egg (at $4/doz): $0.34
1 clove garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt, pepper: $0.35
Five brownie points: It depends on what you mean for this dish to be. If it’s a snack, then you could do a lot worse than a 50-calorie egg, and a 150-calorie or so cupful of beans, with minimal seasonings. If it’s a meal, then it could use some rounding out with vegetables for more nutrients. Beans do provide you with lots of fiber, not to be found in too many other types of food, however. And for a vegetarian dish, this one is pretty protein-happy. Forget the preservative-filled power bars and such.
Eight maple leaves: Go for less ingredients if you’re looking to cook more locally and sustainably, as a general rule. It’s easier on you, and as I found with the discarded recipe mentioned above, can prove even better results on your taste. In the midst of a recession of fresh produce that’s local to the Northeast area — winter — it’s a good time to play around with beans, eggs and other staples that are not dependent upon the seasons. Even if that means barely tampering with them.