Sometimes a small change can make all the difference.
This is something I’m trying to remember as I continue to generate new years resolutions for myself. I’m not one of those people–the ones who wave their hand with dramatic flourish, throw their head back, and declare “Me? I don’t do New Years Resolutions.” I probably veer towards the other extreme, as it’s only January 2nd and I have an ambitious to-do list including reorganizing the house, finally getting pictures on the wall, catching up on the various foreign languages I’ve studied, coming up with new activities to do with my children, and finally sticking to a great new exercise regimen…if only my energy and stick-to-it-ness were as boundless as my list-making ability is prolific.
So I’m trying to remember that it’s the tiny tweaks that make the biggest difference–and maybe for no reason other that you are more likely to follow through with them.
One small change I made a few years back was to start making soup stock from scratch. Though it requires that you’re generally “around” for a few hours and that you have the forethought to clear some space in the freezer, there’s not much more to it than that. I know some people can get rhapsodic about how some kitchen technique or another cosmically altered the course of their life, but I’m not dramatic enough of a personality to demarcate my life into “before” and “after” homemade stock eras. Even with that, I’ll still say that whenever I use homemade stock, there’s an extra depth of flavor and complexity in even the most simple things you make–it’s a simple routine to get into that reverberates through everything that emerges from your kitchen.
I love my legumes, so I’ve made white bean puree many times–but while always good, it was never tremendously exciting. Instead, it was hummus’s poor cousin–a bit bland, with a texture that was smooth but not quite silky enough.
But here’s a lesson in the amazing properties of good soup stock. Simmered in nothing more than broth, this puree is remarkably rich and smooth, even before the first golden drizzles of brown butter sauce start puddling on its surface. The walnuts are both a textural contrast and a mellow counterpoint to the puree, and the brown butter sauce enhances the qualities of both: smooth and liquid like the beans, nutty like the walnuts. (Not surprising, since the French term is beurre noisette–hazelnut butter).
A dish that can not just hold its own against its tahini-chickpea cousin, but even earns a rightful place on a well-appointed dinner menu–here, with a rack of lamb, grains, and green beans. Not a bad New Year’s Day meal. Not a bad lesson to keep in mind for the new year.
Note: If your New Year’s resoluations include not wasting food, assuage your conscience: you can get through a good amount of fresh sage in this recipe. We used a roasted turkey broth we had made from Thanksgiving remains, but I’ve included instructions for chicken broth below.
- 1c dry white beans such as cannelini or great northern beans
- 1 rib of celery
- 1 carrot
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2c chicken broth
- 1 sprig sage (about 6-8 leaves per sprig)
- salt and pepper to taste
- sage brown butter sauce (below)
- 1/2 cup walnuts
Brown butter sauce
- 4T butter
- 1 sprig sage leaves
Soak the beans overnight or at least for several hours if you can. (If you forget to soak, cover the beans with water and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes, turn off the heat and allow to stand for an hour before proceeding with the recipe).
Drain the beans and put them into a pot with the celery, carrot, garlic, and one sprig of sage. Add the broth and about 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook gently for about 2 hours. (Because you are going to puree this, you want the beans to be very soft). When the beans start to soften, season with salt and pepper. Add additional water (or stock) if the mixture starts to dry out.
When the beans are very soft, fish out the carrot, celery, and sage. Drain the beans but reserve the liquid–you’ll need to add this liquid as you puree to get it to the desired consistency. Puree in the food processor until creamy, adding liquid as necessary–I used probably a half a cup. Reheat the puree very gently (I used a microwave) and remove to a serving bowl.
While the beans are cooking, toast the walnuts: break up with your fingers or chop, then put in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Toast, stirring frequently until the nuts brown and become more aromatic–be careful not to burn them, it can happen quickly. Remove immediately from the pan.
To make the brown butter sauce, pluck the leaves of sage from the second sprig. Melt the butter over medium heat (I used the same small skillet I used for the walnuts). After the butter has melted, keep heating it–it will start to bubble and sizzle furiously, and then start to recede. You’ll see brown solids begin to fall and collect at the bottom of the skillet while the butter turns caramel in color. Around this time you’ll catch the butter’s nutty aroma rising from the skillet. Add the sage leaves, stir, and remove to a bowl.
Make a well in the center of the puree, drizzle in the brown butter sauce, and sprinkle the toasted walnuts on top.