Last October, while on hiatus between projects I flew back east to visit one my oldest and best friends, Steve, who teaches criminal justice at a small university in rural Virginia. It was great to get out of Los Angeles and it was fantastic to see Steve. It had been years since we'd seen one another but whenever we talk or get together it's as though nothing has changed and no time at all has passed. However during this visit I was surprised by Steve's announcement that he had become vegetarian. "Seriously?" I asked incredulously. "No meat at all?" He said no. "Why not? Is it like a heath thing or do you not like the killing of poor defenseless animals?" "A little of both," he explained. I was slightly shocked and more than a little bemused. Growing up, all he ever ate were hamburgers, usually from McDonalds, or the occasional microwave pizza. Rarely vegetables and only when his mother harangued him about it. And now, suddenly he's salad boy (not that there's anything wrong with that).
As we visited he showed me a vegetarian cookbook that he liked a lot (he was cooking now too!) - a big, thick volume called Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison. I flipped through it and found it to be kind of really good. For the rest of my trip, before I'd fall asleep each night, I would read through the book, scribbling down interesting recipes that I wanted to try once I returned to Los Angeles. A number of them I thought would benefit from the addition of some grilled chicken or something, but this one is actually great the way it is.
2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 small ribs of celery, diced finely
20 (or so) green olives, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon paprika
4 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Place the beans in a large bowl and add the olives, celery and tarragon. Gently mix.
In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, garlic, paprika and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify the dressing.
Pour the dressing over the bean mixture and then taste for seasoning.
And so my love affair with cannellini beans continues. They give this dish a nice, hearty base while the celery contrasts the bean's creamy texture with a nice crisp bite. The salty olives keep the beans from being bland and the tarragon, with its delecate, anise flavor freshen up the salad. It's a fantastic side salad for a light main course, like fish, although I happened to served it with a very nice open-faced sandwich of roasted asparagus, topped with a poached egg, prociutto, and a little gruyere cheese.