White Bean Spread and Rosemary Focaccia
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On dark winter days, I seek out warmth and light wherever I can. At my sunny kitchen table, in a seat next to the radiator. Piling on layers and heading out for a walk or huddling under a down comforter late in the day. As a great aficionado of coziness, I am prone to dinners in our warm kitchen and cooking at home as often as I can. That doesn’t mean that I will turn down an evening out.
On the first day of 2012, Ray and I left the house in the dark of evening, bundled against the wind and harmlessly fluttering flakes of snow, to meet friends for dinner. The place we ended up was spacious but glowing with warm candlelight. The exposed brick walls and golden brown wood floors and tables exuded a toasty feeling. We relaxed into our chairs and ordered from the simple menu. Wine arrived in small juice sized glasses. The white bean dip that we ordered as a starter was silky but substantial, warm with hints of lemon. It didn’t take long for me to want to recreate it at home.
Our rental kitchen rarely comes close to the glowing atmosphere of a comfortable restaurant. I try to ignore the dusty corners and dishes in the sink and come back to the feeling of arrival. We are here at the table, we will be taken care of, we will be fed. To find this sense of well being and sustenance, I planned a few hours ahead. Beans soaked in a cast iron pot while focaccia dough rose in a ceramic bowl on the counter. I cooked the beans in the pre-heating oven and then pureed them into a velvety spread while the bread baked into a golden sheet of chewy springy dough.
A simple meal for a cold winter evening, bringing warmth home in so many ways.
This is the ideal lazy Sunday meal, which soaks, cooks, and rises while you are enjoying other things. There is very little active cooking time but requires some planning ahead.
Creamy White Bean Spread
There is very little hands on work with this recipe, most of time is soaking and cooking the beans. If you prefer to use canned beans, warm them up a little bit first. This spread is quite fine when cold, but best when warm. I used great northern beans, but I suspect that cannellini beans would be very good (here’s a little bit about the differences)
1 cup dry white beans
1 small head of garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little for drizzling
salt and pepper
Place the beans in a large bowl or pot (a dutch oven works well for cooking them, but any pot will do) and cover with a few inches of water. Leave the beans to soak for 4 hours or more.
About an hour before you want to eat, place the beans and their water in an oven-proof pot (make sure there at least two inches of water covering the beans). Turn the oven to 400 and put the pot, covered, in the oven. Meanwhile, take the head of garlic and cut off the stem so that the very top of each clove is removed. Peel off most of the outer skin, but leave the skin around each clove intact. Put the head of garlic in a small oven proof dish and drizzle some olive oil to cover the top. Roast the garlic in the oven for about 20 minutes or until each clove is very soft (they will be burning hot, so poke them with a fork to check them). Let the garlic cool.
After one hour, check the beans. They should be completely soft, but not falling apart. Carefully remove the pot from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.
Spoon the beans into the bowl of a food processor. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of each clove and add to the beans. Pour in the lemon juice and olive oil. Puree for several minutes until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add some of the cooking liquid from the beans to thin it to a smooth, spreadable consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve while warm.
Makes about 2 cups.
Rosemary Focaccia Bread
Adapted from the Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
This dough can rise for nearly as long as the beans are soaking. If you can’t leave the dough rising for four hours, let it rise in the refrigerator overnight and take it out an hour or two before shaping the dough. As always, you can use just all purpose flour, but I like the added texture and flavor that comes from the whole wheat. I used my stand mixer to mix this, but I think it would work fine to stir by hand.
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/8 teaspoon yeast (active dry or instant)
2 cups minus two tablespoons room temperature water
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary (or 1/2 teaspoon dried), chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt for sprinkling on top
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a mixing bowl) place the flours and yeast. With the paddle attachment running on low speed, combine the flour and yeast. Keep the mixer running and slowly pour in the water. Mix until the dough comes together and then increase the speed to medium. Mix until the dough becomes smooth and shiny, about 15-20 minutes. If stirring by hand, stir until the dough is smooth and shiny, ideally for 15 to 20 minutes (the stirring helps develop the gluten). Add sugar and salt and mix well to incorporate.
Oil a bowl or container with olive oil and pour the dough into it. Cover so that it is airtight and let rise for about 4 hours, or at least until it has doubled. About an hour before you are ready to bake the dough (around the time you put the beans in the oven) coat a sheet pan with olive oil (parchment paper may also be helpful to keep the bread from sticking while it bakes). Pour the dough onto the baking sheet and gently stretch it until it covers the pan. Let the dough rise for about an hour.
If you are cooking the beans then the oven is already preheating for the bread. If you haven’t turned the oven on, preheat to 475′ while the dough is in its final rise. Place a rack on the lowest level in the oven and put your baking stone (if using) on the rack while preheating.
When the oven is ready and the dough has risen for an hour, drizzle a table spoon of olive oil over the dough. Sprinkle on the rosemary and salt.
Bake the bread for 12 to 14 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and drizzle on more olive oil if desired. Cut or rip into smaller pieces and serve immediately.
Quick Caramelized Onions
For topping the white bean spread or the focaccia
1 medium red or yellow onion
Slice the onion into thin strips. Heat a skillet or saucepan over low heat and add a small amount of olive oil. When the pan is hot, add the onions. Cook over low heat, stirring every so often and making sure they don’t burn. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until the onions darken to a rich brown. Add salt, if desired.