Yield
6 servings
Time
20 minutes prep, 35 minutes cooking, About 1 hour total
From their sighting early in May and on through to October, fresh white beans known as cocos blancs are part of my Provencal diet. I put these creamy beans in soups and eat them bathed in basil sauce, loving the sweet aroma that wafts from the kitchen as they cook away on the stove.
 
Equipment: A large heavy-bottomed saucepan

Ingredients
 
  • 1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 plump cloves garlic, peeled, halved, green germs removed
  • 2 pounds fresh small white beans in the pod, shelled (or substitute 1 pound dried white beans)
  • 4 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 1-1/2 quarts homemade chicken stock or cold water
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 recipe Light Basil Sauce (recipe follows)

Light Basil Sauce:

  • 4 plump cloves garlic, peeled, halved, green germs removed, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves and flowers
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Instructions

For Fresh Beans: In the saucepan, combine the olive oil and garlic and stir to coat the garlic with the oil. Place over moderate heat and cook until the garlic is fragrant and soft, about 2 minutes. Do not let it brown. Add the beans, stir to coat with the oil, and cook for 1 minute more. Add the bay leaves and the stock and stir. Cover, bring to a simmer over moderate heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt. Continue cooking at a gentle simmer until the beans are tender, about 15 minutes more. Stir from time to time to make sure the beans are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add additional stock or water if necessary. Taste for seasoning. Remove and discard the bay leaves.

For Dried Beans: Rinse the beans, picking them over to remove any pebbles. Place the beans in a large bowl, add boiling water to cover, and set aside for 1 hour. Drain the beans, discarding the water. In the heavy saucepan, combine the olive oil and garlic, and stir to coat the garlic with the oil. Cook over moderate heat until the garlic is fragrant and soft, about 2 minutes. Do not let it brown. Add the beans, stir to coat with the oil, and cook for 1 minute more. Add the bay leaves. Add the stock and stir. Cover, bring to a simmer over moderate heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt. Continue cooking at a gentle simmer until the beans are tender, about 30 minutes more. Stir from time to time to make sure the beans are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add additional stock or water if necessary. (Cooking time will vary according to the freshness of the beans.) Taste for seasoning. Remove and discard the bay leaves. To serve, stir the basil sauce into the beans, taste for seasoning and serve.

Light Basil Sauce

2/3 cup; 12 1-tablespoon servings
 
There are many days, particularly in the heat of summer, when I want the hit of basil and the texture of the sauce, but with a bit less fat. So I created this light sauce, which I use regularly in place of the traditional basil sauce knows as pistou. While its most traditional use is as a sauce for the Provencal vegetable soup known as soupe au pistou, I put it on everything. I use it as a sauce for pasta, dab it on pizza along with tomato sauce, pair it with poached fish, and swirl it in a soup.
 
By Hand: Place the garlic and salt in a mortar and mash with a pestle to form a paste. Be patient and work slowly and evenly. Add the basil little by little, pounding and turning the pestle with a grinding motion to form a paste. Slowly add the oil, turning the pestle with a grinding motion until all the oil has been used. The sauce will not form an emulsion like a mayonnaise, but, rather, the basil leaves will remain suspended in the oil. Taste for seasoning. Stir again before serving.
 
In a Food Processor: Place the garlic, salt, and basil in the bowl of a food processor and process to a paste. With the machine running, slowly pour the oil through the tube and process again. Taste for seasoning. Stir again before serving.
 
Transfer to a small bowl. (The sauce can be stored, covered and refrigerated, for 3 days or frozen for up to 6 months.) Bring to room temperature and stir again before serving.

Adapted from The Provence Cookbook. © 2004 by Patricia Wells. Published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York, NY.