Sometimes I find myself struggling with the easiest things that life throws at me. Due to lack of ideas, creativity or I don’t know what, I blank out and I find myself panicking, going in circles and ending in a state of despair, afraid that this time I got stuck really badly. Then, if I haven’t given up already, I search for wisdom outside of me, in beloved books, extraordinary people who I love and admire. One such person is Eric Ripert, a French-American chef and an extremely genuine person who I never met, but whose work and way of living I greatly admire. In one of his interviews he said that “Cooking is about memories, about something you have learned in the past and where, in the present, instinct kicks in allowing your experiences to build up and to get transformed into flavors and techniques that lead you to create something new.” So when one of my friends asked me to come up with a vegetarian crostini recipe, that can easily be made with ingredients that can be found in Bulgaria at this time of the year, and with the Christmas Lent in mind, I was completely blanking out and having a hard time coming up with any ideas. This is where Eric’s wisdom came as an anchor and a starting point, where rather than being original or creative, I thought of what I can use that reminds me of this time of the year in Bulgaria and what the dishes that I associate with Lent are. Beans were on top of my list, remembering how much I had eaten in the winter while I was a child. Then I thought of all the traditional bean dishes Bulgarians eat and how some of the most delicious ones are made leftover beans. From there on it was easy, as Eric says, memories and and built up experiences started trickling in.
I used white beans, red pepper, onion, garlic, rustic toasted bread and fresh mint, which is a Bulgarian staple in cooking beans. It is really easy to prepare (feel free to use canned or leftover beans), yet because of the spinach cooked in white and the lemon, it is so fresh and light. I still remember how on Christmas Eve my family will cook so much beans that we will end up eating them for days after Christmas and the end of Lent. So here is a savory recipe for all the leftover beans, that will transform them into a yummy appetizer.
White Beans and Spinach Crostini
Makes about 18 crostini
• 1 can (15 oz. / 425 gr.) cannellini beans, washed and drained
• 1 roasted red pepper, finely chopped
• 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
• 1/2 lemon, juiced and lemon rind finely grated
• 1 tsp white balsamic vinegar
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 1 package (5 oz. / 150 gr.) fresh spinach
• 2 tbsp white wine
• Handful of fresh mint (about 1/3 cup)
• 2 garlic cloves
• 1 baguette
Combine the first 5 ingredients into a medium mixing bowl, add 1 tbsp of olive oil, salt to taste and mix well. Let the mixture sit for at least 30 minutes, so the flavors can develop and enhance the beans (you can make the mixture up to a day ahead).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the baguette slices on two large rimmed baking sheets and bake until golden (15 to 20 minutes).
Meanwhile, heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil, half of the spinach and 1 tbsp of wine. Toss quickly until the spinach is slightly wilted (about a minute). Add half of the mint and toss a few more times to incorporate. Place the mixture into a bowl and set aside. Repeat the process with the remaining spinach.
Take one of the peeled garlic cloves ,cut its tip rub one of the toasted baguette slices (2-3 strokes) with it. Repeat with the remaining baguette slices.
Arrange the crostini by topping each one of them with 1/2 tbsp of spinach and 1/2 tbsp of beans.
Voila, you just made a tasty appetizer!
Tip: The crostini will taste so much better if you work quickly and use the spinach mixture while it is still warm.