There are so many variations of this recipe, sometimes called Tuscan cannellini bean salad (the beans are also referred to as cannelloni beans as well), or white bean salad, and the ingredients are often varied and quite good. This is my version, which, of course, makes it the best. You may see a small bowl of this on the table at good Italian restaurants, and while the most common variation uses parsley instead of basil, I much prefer my version. You will too.
1 19 oz can of cannellini (cannelloni) beans (or any kind of white bean such as butterbeans)
the juice of 1 lemon (~3 tablespooons)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon pesto (or a handful of basil leaves coarsely chopped)
salt and pepper to taste
A baguette or rustic Italian bread, sliced into small cracker-like shapes
1. Rinse the beans under water as, while the liquid they are packed in is quite nutritious, it won’t work well if included in this recipe. Set the beans aside. If you prefer, you can use dried beans that you soak, cook, and prepare yourself, but unless you are comfortable doing so and know how to ensure their tenderness, I recommend canned beans.
2. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and pesto (or basil leaves) to a bowl and stir together. The mix does not have to be a perfect emulsion, just a gentle stir will do.
3. Add the beans and stir it up a bit. I like to crush a few of the beans to thicken the dressing mixture allowing it to adhere better to the beans and giving it some texture. Then add salt and pepper to taste. Eat the whole bowl because you can’t stop after testing the flavor. Go back to step 1 and start over and try not to eat the whole bowl this time.
4. Place a spoonful of the bean salad onto each piece of bread and serve.
I always have pesto around so it is easy for me to use it in this dish, but basil leaves work perfectly well and so does parsley. I may experiment with the decidedly non-Italian cilantro to see how that goes. As I always say, experiment yourself, add other items that interest you, and you may chance upon something that blows you away. As you can see from the picture, I also added a lot more garlic than I indicate in this recipe, and woke up this morning still tasting the garlic, which I rather enjoy. Cooking is as much an art as it is a science, so tweak any of the ingredients or techniques to suit your own taste.
I also put the salad in the refrigerator for a bit which causes the olive oil to thicken somewhat. This helps the salad stay together a bit better and allows some tome for all the flavors to blend. I can easily make an entire dinner from a hunk of bread and a bowl of these beans, which is not just frugal, but also delicious and nutritious.