THE WASHINGTON POST – If you asked me to list my desert-island foods, one of them would be nut butter. Preferably, and I realise this would probably be stretching the rules, I’d want a variety of nuts, plus a high-speed blender or food processor (and electricity, naturally) to help turn them into the freshest spreads on the fly. (I’d also need a way to toast them first, but I figure I can play that by ear.)
I’d want almond butter, of course, as that was my first non-peanut entry into the category so long ago, before I started making my own with every nut I could find. Everything works. Have you ever tasted cashew butter? Delicious. Pecan butter? Heavenly. Pistachio butter? Almost too good to be true.
For the most part I eat them on toast or English muffins, sometimes with a jam to match. And sometimes I cook with them, baking them into cookies or stirring them into soups or stews. But not until I picked up a recent book about French cooking had I ever thought to pair a nut butter with one of my other desert-island foods: beans. In Rebekah Peppler’s À Table she wrote about a sauce from the Languedoc region, aillade, made by pounding nuts in a mortar and pestle with garlic, lemon zest and olive oil.
Peppler uses pistachios in her aillade, which she allows can be made in a food processor, and she folds it into cooked cannellini beans. You know I had to try it, and I was anything
The aillade – in essence a garlicky nut butter – turns simple white beans into something so rich, so creamy and so indulgent-tasting, my mind started reeling with ideas about how to use them. Each day they seemed to taste better than before, as the beans absorbed more of the aillade’s flavour.
I ate some warm over rice, slathered some on a flour tortilla and scooped some onto a bed of baby salad greens from the garden. But it was pretty hard to beat my final choice: piled onto toasted rustic bread with some arugula leaves for peppery contrast.
The next time I make them, I think I’ll do the latter for a little get-together with a handful of friends. More and more of us are vaccinated, and the weather’s turning glorious.
BEANS WITH PISTACHIO AILLADE
Active time: 20 minutes | Total time: one hour 10 minutes, plus eight hours soaking time
Six to eight servings
An aillade is a simple French sauce of nuts, garlic and lemon zest and here it adds a beautiful richness and flavour to simply cooked white beans.
Serve the beans on toast, as a side dish, with grains or in wraps.
Storage Notes: The beans can be refrigerated for up to one week or frozen for up to three months.
Eight garlic cloves, divided
Six cups water
One and a quarter cups dried cannellini, great Northern or navy beans, soaked overnight and drained
One bay leaf
One and a half teaspoons fine sea salt, divided, plus more to taste
One cup plus two tablespoons shelled unsalted pistachios, divided
Two tablespoons vinegar
One teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus more for optional garnish
Half cup extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh parsley leaves, for garnish
Smash six of the garlic cloves, and chop the other two.
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the water, beans, the smashed garlic cloves and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, add one teaspoon of salt, and cook until the beans are tender but the skins are still intact, 45 minutes to one hour.
While the beans are cooking, in a large skillet over medium heat, cook the pistachios, tossing, until heated through and lightly toasted, about three minutes. Remove and reserve two tablespoons of the pistachios for garnish.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the remaining one cup of pistachios, the chopped garlic, vinegar, lemon zest and the remaining half teaspoon salt and process until the pistachios are ground into small pieces. With the food processor running, slowly pour in the oil until completely incorporated. Taste, and season with more salt if needed.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked beans to a serving bowl. Add the aillade and gently toss to coat, adding a little bean cooking liquid as needed to create a creamy sauce. Sprinkle with the reserved two tablespoons of pistachios, the lemon zest and parsley, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Nutrition based on eight servings | Calories: 321; Total Fat: 22g; Saturated Fat: 3g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 448mg; Carbohydrates: 23g; Dietary Fibre: 6g; Sugar: 2g; Protein: 10g.