It is truly amazing what you can do with a couple of cans of beans. Here they are transformed into a pretty classy white bean puree. Bitter leaves, sweet onions, earthy beans—the different components work very well together. If you choose the right plate to serve it on, it even looks rather painterly. Eat as a main course or with a range of vegetables. It’s also good with meaty fish.–Diana Henry
LC Poor Man’s Hummus Note
We noticed something interesting when our testers talked about their response to this white bean puree recipe. Folks simply couldn’t get enough of the white been puree. One tester even went so far as to refer to it as “poor man’s hummus.” We’ll take that as a compliment. And we’ll take any excuse we can think of to make the puree for friends—with or without the oh-so-good, oh-so-good-for-you balsamic-glazed veggies.
White Bean Puree, Radicchio, and Red Onions
For the white bean puree
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 onion roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 garlic clove crushed
- Two cans cannellini beans drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup homemade chicken stock, canned chicken broth, or water
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Squeeze of lemon juice
For the vegetables
- 2 large heads radicchio
- 2 red onions
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
- 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Make the white bean puree
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat and gently cook the onion until it’s soft but not colored. Add the beans, garlic, chicken stock or water, and salt and pepper. Cook for 4 minutes.
- Process the beans and their cooking liquid in a blender or food processor with the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil and lemon juice, leaving the mixture slightly chunky. Taste and adjust the seasoning to taste.
Make the vegetables
- Halve each radicchio. Then thickly slice each radicchio into circles or cut each half into 4 sections, trimming and discarding the base and a little of the white heart from each section.
- Halve the onions and trim the base of each. Cut each half lengthwise into crescent moon-shaped wedges, each about 3/4 inches wide at its thickest part. (Or just slice them horizontally, if you prefer.)
- Mix the olive oil, balsamic, and seasoning together in a dish. Put the onions in a bowl and the radicchio in another bowl then drizzle both with dressing. Gently turn to coat and let sit for about 10 minutes.
- Heat a skillet over medium-high heat until really hot but not smoking. Cook the onions quickly until well colored on all sides, turning once or more. Reduce the heat to low and let the onions cook, turning frequently, until softened, maybe 2 minutes or so.
- Meanwhile, spoon the white bean puree into a serving dish, reheating it gently first if you want to. The puree can also be served at room temperature.
- Increase the heat under the onions to medium-high, add the radicchio to the skillet, and cook just until the radicchio is wilted and colored on each side—this will happen very quickly, say, 45 seconds or so. Pile the radicchio and onions on top of the white bean puree. Season with salt and black pepper, and serve with a little oil drizzled over the top.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This white bean puree recipe was not only tasty but very unique in its flavor combinations. Who knew that white beans could be so decadent?! The creamy puree could be enjoyed on its own as a side, and so could the sauteed red onion and radicchio. I can see the vegetable topping alongside a grilled skirt steak, chicken breast, or even pork chop. This was simple to prepare and utterly delicious. I processed the mixture in my food processor until it was very smooth. In terms of cooking the vegetables, I actually used my grill pan to get those lovely grill marks that we all know and love. I cooked the onions for about 2 minutes per side total and no, I did not add any of the cooking liquid to the pan while the veggies were cooking because I didn’t want the veggies to get too soggy. I did, however, add the remaining cooking liquid to the cooked veggies before serving them over the puree. I didn’t want to waste any of that lovely flavor! By the time I cooked the veggies, the puree was still warm and sitting in the food processor, so there was no need to reheat it before serving. The radicchio took about the same cooking time as the onions, which was about 2 minutes per side. The only thing missing from this dish was a “touch of green” for color contrast. Perhaps a bit of freshly chopped rosemary in the balsamic marinade or maybe even some snipped chives or chopped parsley would do? This was a lovely side dish that I will be enjoying again, that’s for sure!
This white bean puree recipe is vegan deliciousness (if such a thing appeals to you). Or a beautiful main course. Or a great potluck dish. Or a first course. The layering of flavors from simple peasant-y ingredients creates a classy and special dish good enough for company and simple enough for a workday lunch or dinner. I chose the company route and plated it on a platter and it looked like something much more special than beans, onions, and a leafy vegetable (albeit a pretty red leafy vegetable). And it’s got make-ahead potential since the white bean puree could be made in advance, refrigerated, then brought to room temperature or heated, depending on your preference. Even the radicchio and onions could be cooked up in advance, kept at room temperature until shortly before serving, then assembled right before serving. Plus, it’s got leftover potential. This would be great with the radicchio and onions chopped up a bit and tossed with some fun shape of pasta or stuffed inside some pita. The composed dish has several saltings—do not skip any! This recipe likes salt. And pepper. I also used a generous squeeze lemon juice. I saved pots and dishes by mashing the bean mixture right in the cooking pot with a potato masher. I liked the idea of a chunky texture, and felt no need to dirty the blender or food processor for a few beans and accompanying ingredients. I cut the radicchio as described. My radicchio was beautiful and in pristine condition. I cut my onions as described, into 3/4-inch wide crescent moon-shaped wedges. The photograph of this dish shows horizontally sliced rings, and either of these would look pretty atop the dish when served. I used the aforementioned platter and spooned the room-temperature bean puree in an oval in the center. I then piled the onions around the outside edge of my bean puree, followed by a ring of radicchio around the outside edge of my onions, and finished with salt (yes, more salt!), black pepper, and a final drizzle of the extra-virgin olive oil atop everything. This was perfect at room temperature, though I’m sure it would be equally perfect warm or hot. However, my room temperature version saves any headache of last-minute prep, and I was so happy to have my dish on the table just before my company arrived. I also had available the smoked extra-virgin olive oil I used for the wonderful Smoked Olive Oil-Manchego Potato Chips, which could be a wonderful table-side addition to each individual serving, or as a replacement for the final olive oil drizzle. This dish would be great year-round, as it is colorful and adds in a lovely way a bitter element, a sometimes not-so-easy-to-find taste element combined with a pleasant presentation.
Cooking the beans for 4 minutes seemed to be a pretty specific amount of time, but I found it amazing that right at the 4-minute mark, the beans had warmed through and begun absorbing the liquid at a pretty quick rate. If I hadn’t been paying close attention, I would have lost all the cooking liquid. When I pureed the beans, I should have left them just a little bit chunky. When pureed until smooth, the beans’ texture got a bit pasty–delicious, but pasty–as it cooled. It would be easy to forget the lemon juice, but make sure to add it when you puree the beans. I was able to use just the oil and vinegar that was adhered to the onions to cook them, which left me enough liquid in the radicchio to steam and sauté at the same time, lending it great color on the edges. I served this white bean puree with a piece of tombo tuna with mango aioli. The sweetness was a nice complement to the bitterness of the radicchio and the acidity of the lemon in the beans.
Originally published September 08, 2014