Looking Forward and Looking Back + Warm White Beans in Crème Fraîche Recipe
Kicking back in 65° sunny weather, I’d be the last person in the world to wish away Winter. We get such a stingy portion of it, whereas Summer we get in great dollops. And as far as the softer and more romantic seasons of Spring and Autumn, well, we barely get a taste. Seriously, Winter here is more like a brief palate cleanser between two great dishes of hot. Thus, I celebrate every “cold” day that we have.
Much of the world, I realize, understandably disagrees with me, their winters being far more winterly. So while I appreciate each and every chill by looking back and remembering the last summer (which ended sometime in, oh, mid-November), I know that many are looking forward to balmier days to come.
Alas, it is still January, and Winter is still on the menu. So I think something a little…defiant is in order. Something that no one season can claim as its own and yet manages to feel appropriate in all of them. Something like these beans. These plump little lovelies are cloaked in a creamy, piquant sauce and then imbued with masses of fresh herbs. Rich and warming for Winter’s sake, tangy and verdant for the delicious Spring to come.
The recipe here originally comes from an older book of Amanda Hesser (she of Food 52 fame). I’ve simplified the recipe a bit. She calls for a special beef stock, the recipe for which is also in the book. But since I usually have chicken stock on hand, that’s what I typically use. The herbs, too, are always customizable. Rosemary and thyme or sage make for a truly Wintry-tasting stew, but marjoram or tarragon would push it forward into lighter and brighter territory, to suit your mood!
Warm White Beans in Crème Fraîche and Herbs
Crème fraîche is absolutely delicious here, but I believe that sour cream would work as well. If you use this substitution, however, make sure you don’t allow it to boil, or it may curdle. Do change the herbs to suit your mood or the season. Oh, and I’ve made this with all kinds of beans—Borlotti are particularly nice!
Adapted from The Cook and the Gardener, by Amanda Hesser.
Serves 4 to 6
1 1/2 cups dried white beans, soaked overnight
4 1/2 cups chicken or beef stock
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs thyme
2 branches rosemary
1 cup crème fraîche
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Drain and rinse the soaked beans. In a medium saucepan, combine beans, stock, water, bay leaf, 2 sprigs of thyme, and one branch of rosemary. Bring to a boil; lower heat, and simmer till tender but not falling apart—anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the age of your beans. Add more water judiciously, just to keep beans covered. When just tender, turn up the heat and reduce the liquid till there is roughly half the amount of liquid as there are beans.
Strip the leaves from the remaining sprigs of thyme and rosemary, and finely mince. Add crème fraîche and herbs to the beans, and season with salt and pepper. Let simmer for a bit to meld the flavors—about 5 to 7 minutes. If you use sour cream, do not let the mixture come to a boil. Serve warm.
These thicken mightily when cooled, so thin if necessary when reheating with a little milk or stock, or even water. They’ll get better and better for up to a week.