Never before have I’ve been flooded with so many requests from friends and family to make a recipe that they saw in The New York Times. Heck, even The Times itself e-mailed me several times about the same dish. Although, I had already come across this cannellini bean and pasta recipe on my own when it first appeared, I didn’t find it all that exciting. I must admit, however, that upon reading the recipe’s backstory and why its developer chose to use a classic French beurre blanc, I became more interested.
The Times recipe is an adaptation of one by British food writer Jack Monroe, a 25-year-old single mother who fell into poverty just a few years ago. Since that time, through her blog postings and a column in England’s The Guardian, she’s more financially secure and has become quite the celebrity.
Her culinary focus is on low-budget dishes that belie their frugality. In her blog, Cooking on a Bootstrap, she describes the dish I’m writing about today as:
“An unctuous and subtly powerful sauce reduced to a thick, provocative shroud for slow-cooked cannellini beans and a scant handful of pasta. It would sit proudly on any hifalutin restaurant menu, but its main ingredient is a tin of beans and a slug of vinegar.”
Each of the recipes on her blog shows the price per serving in pence. The cost per serving of the cannellini and pasta: 38p, or 49 cents.
Monroe’s approach to cooking makes me think of Italy’s cucina povera, which, over time, has influenced many dishes that have found their way onto many, to use Monroe’s phrase, “hifalutin restaurant menus.” I have the feeling that some of hers may eventually wind up there as well.
I hope you’ll try this dish and discover, as did my husband and I, elegance on a budget.
Although I used The Times recipe when I prepared the dish, I am presenting below the one from Monroe’s blog, which includes the prices of the ingredients. In the paper’s adaptation, there are some differences: The Times calls for a “shallot or small onion” in preparing the beurre blanc; Monroe uses garlic. Next time, I’ll be using the garlic, which I think would yield an earthier sauce. The paper’s recipe also adds an additional tablespoon of butter, for a total of 3, which yields a richer sauce and is what I used and recommend. Finally, The Times recommends finishing the dish with grated Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, or other strong hard cheese. I opted for Parmigiano-Reggiano. All three modifications obviously add a touch of refinement to the dish and, not surprisingly, increase its cost. But whichever version you choose should yield a wonderfully tasty dish.
One final note; do not expect the pasta to be al dente; as in many bean and pasta dishes, the pasta will be quite soft.
Cannellini-Bean Pasta with Beurre Blanc (from a recipe by John Monroe that was adapted by Tejal Rao in The New York Times)
1 x 400g tin of cannellini beans or haricots, drained and rinsed, 42p (1 15-ounce can)
800ml vegetable or chicken stock, 3p (about 3 cups, or 27 ounces)
120g small pasta shapes, 7p (4 ounces, about a cup)
salt and pepper, to taste, <1p
For the beurre blanc:
4-8 tbsp cider or white wine, 10-20p
4 tbsp light coloured vinegar, 3p (I used white wine vinegar.)
1 tbsp garlic puree or finely chopped garlic, 4p
25g butter, 14p, or cooking spread, 6p (1 ounce; The Times recipe calls for 3 tablespoons, which is what I used.)
1. Pop the beans into a large saucepan that will easily hold thrice their volume; for you will be adding pasta to this later.
2. Cover with the stock, and bring to the boil.
3. Reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes; the longer the cooking time, the softer and creamier the beans will be.
4. While the beans are cooking, make the beurre blanc in a separate small pan.
5. Combine all of the ingredients and cook on a low–medium heat, for 15 minutes, to reduce the volume and combine the fat and acid together. You will need to keep an eye on this and stir it fairly continuously, as I have burned and lost many a beurre blanc sauce through a moment’s distraction. Turn off the beurre blanc and allow it to settle.
6. When the beans have cooked for 20 minutes, add the pasta.
7. Cook the pasta for 10 minutes (pasta cooked in sauce always takes a little longer than the packet instructions specify).
8. When the pasta is soft, combine with the beurre blanc sauce.
9. Season generously with black pepper, and enjoy.
10. Following The Times suggested finishing with cheese.
Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, Alsatian Riesling