The meteorologists are forcasting snow across California this weekend, and not just in Tahoe and Big Bear, but in Noe Valley and Napa, maybe even a dusting in the hills around L.A.'s iconic Hollywood sign. It gives me a twinge of sympathy for the starlets who'll be strutting across the red carpet before Sunday's Oscars in next to nothing, but since many of them will be wearing dresses that constitute a down-payment on a house in some states, my sympathy is limited.
White beans, my favorite of which are the Italian kidney-shaped cannellini bean, are an ideal foundation for cold-weather cooking. (If you can't find cannellini, Great Northern and Navy beans are great, too.) I prefer them dry, so you can salt them as you wish, but you generally have to soak them. If you're pressed for time, look for low-sodium canned beans. If you're feeling ambitious, try making cassoulet, the traditional Southern French white bean-based stew. Its combination of creamy, protein-rich beans, savory pork shoulder, luxurious and a touch gamy duck confit and Provençal herbs might even make you glad it's cold outside.
For something simpler, I love white bean soups. Onions, a little Parmigiano cheese rind, rosemary and lacinato kale add depth to this recipe from Gourmet magazine, whereas Michael Chiarello's Super-Tuscan white bean soup recipe doesn't require much more than you probably have in your fridge. (Prosciutto is a staple at my house--you may need to pick some up). If you need an easy-but-sophisticated appetizer to serve at your Oscar party, mash up or puree some cooked white beans with roasted garlic, chopped rosemary and chile flakes, season to taste and slather across grilled artisan bread like Pugliese or pane integrale.
Keep wine pairings simple. All of the aforementioned dishes, except the cassoulet, are inspired by Tuscan cooking, so why not drink Tuscan wine? Sangiovese is the flagship grape of the region, and its high-toned cherry notes, grippy tannins, vibrant acidity and spice notes will complement and elevate even the most rustic of white bean dishes. And you don't need to splurge on a Brunello or refined Chianti Classico, a more youthful, forward Rosso di Montalcino won't come across like sandpaper next to the smooth texture of the beans. I love the 2007 Ferrero Rosso di Montalcino ($17.99), which has a dollop of tobacco spice to ground the sweet black cherry fruit. The 2008 Canalicchio di Sopra Rosso di Montalcino ($21.99) is a little wilder, with roasted meat notes and mineral lift that would make it a fun cross-cultural pairing for the cassoulet. And if you need more than one bottle, there's no better bargain in Rosso di Montalcino right now than the 2008 La Velona Rosso di Montalcino ($11.99), which is rich and savory, but still balanced.
Enjoy your weekend, and most of all: stay warm!