One of the most popular foods in Albania is the white bean, which in Shqip (aka Albanian) we call “fasule.” And Albanians only prepare them in one way, but thank god its delicious. You can order fasule at almost any restaurant, kafe, bar in town and you’ll be served a bowl filled with soft white beans, and orangey broth, floating green spices, and big chunks of tomatoes. You can eat it over a steaming bowl of pilaf or just plan with lots of bread like I do.
Albanians’ ability to stick to tradition and never try something new is one of those communist leftovers that makes this country so interesting…frustrating but also interesting. So my new mission is to try and introduce new ways to cook white beans! Its a familiar ingredient to them, just a different style of preparation. I know, I know, good luck with that one. But as soon as I can find a different kind of bean in this country my whole world might turn upside-down. Baby steps, right? Here’s some of the things I’ve made so far if you’re looking to spice up your kitchen.
White Bean and Roasted Tomato Salad
2-1/2 teaspoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic or red wine vinegar
1/2 of a large red onion, cut into 3/4″ chunks
Salt and pepper
12 firm-ripe roma tomatoes, cored and halved lengthwise
1 can (15 oz) cannellini beans
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil (optional)
Preheat the oven to 475°. In a 9″ square baking dish, combine 1/2 teaspoon of the oil, all of the vinegar, and the onion chunks. Season with salt and pepper. In a large baking dish, arrange the tomatoes cut side up. Drizzle the rest of the oil over the tomatoes, then season with salt and pepper. Roast both the onions and tomatoes. Remove the onions when the edges are starting to darken, about 45 minutes. Remove the tomatoes when they’re reduced in size and the edges darken a little, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Pour the beans and their canning liquid in a medium saucepan with the thyme and a pinch of salt over medium heat. Simmer for 3 minutes, then strain most of the liquid off through a sieve, reserving it in a bowl. Put the beans in a bowl with the onion chunks. Chop up all but 8 or 10 of the tomato halves, and add the chopped pieces to the beans and stir. Stir in the basil if you’re using it. Pour the bean mixture into your serving dish. Arrange the whole tomato halves around the edge of the serving dish. Serve warm or at room temperature.
White Bean Dip
1 15-ounce can cannellini (white kidney beans), drained
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, peeled
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Blend all the ingredients together using a food processer, blender, or any other kind of mixer. Blend until smooth – about 2 minutes. Serve with pita chips of slices of toasted bread.
White Bean Puttanesca
6 anchovy filets from a jar
3 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon drained capers
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
One 15-ounce can cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained, rinsed, and slightly mashed
2 tablespoons chopped basil, thinly sliced
Baked pita chips, or crusty bread, for serving
Combine anchovies, garlic, red pepper, and olive oil in a medium skillet. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring, for two minutes, breaking up the anchovy paste with the back of a spoon. Stir in tomato, capers, and olives and cook two minutes longer. Add the beans and simmer until heated through, about three minutes longer.
Garnish with basil and an extra drizzle of olive oil. Serve with pita chips or crusty bread.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”