Here’s a quick and easy weeknight supper for you: a purée of cannellini beans, seasoned with garlic and rosemary, and thinned out with water or broth to create a soup. Nothing could be simpler or more satisfying. And if you are using canned beans—which you can, why not?—the soup can be done in five minutes. There is no cream in this soup, by the way, the Italian word crema does not mean cream, as in the dairy product, but simply refers to any smooth, creamy textured purée.
1-2 garlic cloves (or more if you like), whole but lightly crushed
A sprig of fresh rosemary
Boiled or canned cannellini beans
Broth or water (or the cooking liquid if using boiled beans)
Salt and pepper
A handful of parsley, finely chopped
NB: No exact measurements for this one; use as much or as little of each ingredient as you need or feel like using. This recipe is pretty much ad lib.
Begin by lightly sautéing your garlic and rosemary in abundant olive oil over moderately low heat. Once the garlic takes on some color, remove both the garlic and the olive oil from the pan. Then pass your cannellini beans through a food mill into the seasoned oil. Allow the beans to insaporire for a few minutes, then add enough water, broth or cooking liquid to thin out the bean purée to the consistency of a soup. Simmer the mixture for a few minutes to let the flavors meld. About a minute before its’ done, stir in the chopped parsley. Drizzle with raw, best-quality olive oil just before serving.
NOTES: This basic recipe is incredible flexible and versatile. Usually, it can be served with some crusty bread on the side, or top of a piece of toasted bread laid at the bottom of the plate, or topped with croutons fried in olive oil, and—as picture above—with boiled rice mixed in. Or some soup pasta instead of the rice.
The same method lends itself to just about any other bean or legume: borlotti, lentils, fagioli all’occhio (black eyed peas), chickpeas… you name it. For a more ‘refined’ taste, you substitute a soffritto of onion, or onion, carrot and celery, for the garlic, in which case don’t remove them from the pan as you would the garlic. For a bit more substance, you can also fry some cubed pancetta in the seasoned oil. Or top your crema with some sautéed shrimp or scallops, which makes for an elegant presentation fit for company.
Boiling dried beans takes some time but is very easy. If you have the time, soak the beans in water to cover them amply, either overnight or save yourself some time by bringing them to a boil and let them soak in the hot water for an hour. Pre-soaking is not strictly necessary, but it does save time and helps the beans to retain their taste and texture—although that’s not too important if you’re going to use them in a purée, of course. Then simmer them in water to cover generously, along with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprig of fresh sage (if you have some on hand) until tender. Season with salt a few minutes before the beans are done. The simmering liquid has lots of flavor and can be used to thin out the crema.
If using canned beans, on the other hand, make sure to rinse them off and drain in a colander. The canning liquid has stuff you don’t want to ingest and, besides, it gives a funny ‘canned’ taste to the dish. When using canned beans, it is best to use broth to give the crema some extra flavor.
Crema di cannellini, when it is kept quite thick, makes for a nice topping for crostini.