Tuesday, January 4, 2011

White Bean Pasta Sauce

I was starting to worry that my kids were going to rebel at all the beans, and it seems a shame to not eat pasta when you live in Italy.  I got it in my head that you could make a pasta sauce out of pureed white beans and Googled it for a recipe.  Remarkably, nothing came up.  Lots of white bean dips and pureed white bean soups, and even an idea to make cheese fondue with white beans, but no pasta sauce.  Off into uncharted territory I went...

First, melt a teaspoon of butter and equal amount of olive oil in a small saute pan.

Once hot, add a half an onion, chopped, and a generous tablespoon of minced garlic.  If the onion hadn't already been chopped, I wouldn't have gone to the effort of making it this small since it was going to get pureed anyway.

Cook the onions and garlic over low heat until smushy and yum.

Add the white beans and warm through.  My beans were previously cooked and frozen so they were already really mushy.  If you are using canned beans, you might want to let them simmer a little bit until they are super soft.  This is about 1 2/3 cups of beans or one can's worth.

Once the beans are appropriately soft, pour the beans, onions and garlic into your food processor.  It doesn't have to be fancy - mine is an attachment for my blender.  You could probably also use an immersion blender but I'm not sure.  If you have bean liquid, you can add that to thin the sauce so that it purees nicely.  You can also use stock or water.

Once the beans are really smooth, add in 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese.  The bean mixture will still be hot so the cheese will melt nicely.  The better the cheese, the better the sauce is going to taste.  At this point, I tasted it and decided it needed the creaminess of a quarter cup of cream cheese.  You probably don't need this but I was really hoping that my kids would eat it.

I added several good twists of sea salt and black pepper.  You can see the pepper sitting on top.

I really, really wanted to mix this in with the pasta but the small people here would have freaked out, so I served it separately with parmesan to put on top.

Well, I ended up making a mixed up serving for my husband to eat when he gets home.  Penne pasta mixed with sauce, topped with more parmesan and fresh black pepper.

The Verdict

I thought the sauce alone was divine, but it got washed out by the pasta and tasted like, well, nothing.  Somehow the nothing managed to offend all three children at dinner.  Clearly they had no intention of eating it to begin with.

As I continued eating, my mind began adding ingredients.  Bacon or pancetta for a carbonara type dish.  Peas and ham.  More onions.  More garlic.  Cheddar cheese.  Blue cheese.  Sausage and mushrooms.  Broccoli and sauce.  Mmmmm, broccoli and sauce.

I actually poured the sauce over the broccoli we had with dinner and I ate the all rest of the broccoli that way.  This worked out OK since my children have decided that vegetables with chlorophyll are evil.  If only they didn't read so much...

I will let you know what the dream husband thinks after dinner.  I wish he wasn't getting this reheated so he could be a good judge.

White Bean Pasta Sauce (serves 4-6)

1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 small onion (I would do more)
1 tablespoon garlic (more!)
1 can or 1 2/3 cups soaked, cooked and drained white beans
bean liquid, or stock, or water
parmesan cheese
1/4 cup cream cheese (optional - I'm not sure this added anything to the recipe)
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter with olive oil in small or medium saute pan.  Add onion and garlic and cook until translucent and soft.

Add beans and cook until appropriately hot and soft.  Put mixture into blender, food processor or other masher and puree until smooth.

Add cheeses of your choice.  Season with salt and pepper.

Snazz up as desired and serve over pasta or veggies.


  1. Kate,

    I keep thinking about this meal. I'd like to pour the beans over broccoli and penne. Any suggestions on how to spice it up?


  2. I've been thinking, Shana, and I'm not quite sure. You could go with a stronger cheese, like cheddar, or maybe some sort of green herb (basil? cilantro?). I think the broccoli is definitely a good idea.

    I ate the leftovers with blue cheese melted in and I thought that was fabulous. However, I think I could eat a shoe if it had enough blue cheese.

    Let me know how it goes!

  3. Kate,

    Unfortunately, I am dairy and soy-free. My younger daughter had eczema that flairs up when I eat dairy and soy (we're breastfeeding).

    Hmmm ... maybe I'll just focus on a tomato-based sauce and add in beans as a thickener.

  4. Oh, that makes it tough. I have a good friend who gave up dairy and soy while she was breastfeeding. My sister and cousin suggest trying celery salt. My mom votes fennel.

    If you try something, let me know!

  5. I throw canellini beans into pasta dishes all the time. I have done this with red sauce, with a primavera kind of all-veggies-together type dish, and then with spicy al'arrabiata or fra diavolo sauces.

    I don't puree them, just rinse and add. They tend to soften and break down if they cook with the sauce a bit, and they become less noticeable, so your young ones might put up with them in that form.