There is a relatively well-known chain of French-inspired cafe's called Le Pain Quotidien that makes irresistible bread, tarts, tartines, and other rustic fare. It's one of the few places I don't mind eating out, because it's the kind of food I love to eat. They also serve iced tea lemonade in your own carafe. My meal is usually something I can recreate at home, which is ok with me because I dine there to be inspired. I eat consciously, always walking away feeling satisfied and refreshed.
During my last visit, I ordered a salad. It was quite substantial, and the second the server placed it in front of me I pulled out my notebook to jot down the ingredients as I ate. I was overcome by how basic it was. Beans, bread cubes, arugula and prosciutto. It was so harmonious and I couldn't help thinking that all that was missing from my early dinner was a large wooden porch overlooking the vineyards and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
Have I told you about my patio? It's not a real patio yet, but the proverbial patio that Andrew and I often mention when we're relaxing and want to sip wine and watch the sun set over the vineyards. You know, the dream house we'll have one day. This salad is the epitome of The Patio experience. Light, rustic, perfect for wine and picnics under oak trees, ideally to be eaten on a patio overlooking the ocean or the vineyards, with some slices of artisinal cheese and grapes on the side. For now, The Patio is a mood and a feeling, but one day, we hope it will be our everyday reality.
THE PATIO SALAD or WHITE BEAN SALAD WITH PROSCIUTTO AND BASIL CROUTONS
It's not mandatory that you cook your own beans, as the canned variety will be fine in a pinch (use two cans of canellini or great northern beans instead), but since they are the star of the show it's wonderful to make them yourself if you have the time. Freeze leftover beans for another use.
1 to ½ cups dried white beans
1 celery stalk
1 bay leaf
3 whole cloves garlic, peeled
½ a baget, halved lengthwise
1 bunch of basil
1 garlic clove
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups of arugula, or as much as you'd like to eat
Fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1 Roma tomato, seeds and ribs removed, finely diced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Prosciutto, about four slices per person
The night before: Soak the beans overnight in a large bowl, covered by at least 1 inch of water.
A few hours before you want to eat: Drain beans, then add them to a large pot and cover with two inches of cold water. Chop the carrot and celery into three pieces each and add to the pot, along with the garlic and bay leaf. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about an hour and a half.
When checking for doneness, test several beans at once, and if they are all tender they’re ready. Turn off the heat and add salt to taste. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes, then drain. (From here, beans can be left at room temperature if using for this meal, refrigerated, or frozen for another use.)
Make the pesto: In a food processor, combine basil, garlic, salt and pepper and pulse to combine. Slowly stream in olive oil until pesto is emulsified and thin enough to toss with the beans and bread. (This can be done in advance. Pour the pesto into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, gently pressing the plastic onto the surface of the pesto to help avoid discoloration. Store in the refrigerator until ready for use.)
Grill the bread: Heat a grill pan to medium. Drizzle each half of the baget with olive oil and grill for several minutes per side, until crisp and golden. Remove from heat. Let cool slightly, then dice into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
Dress the salad: Dress the arugula lightly with olive oil and a splash of lemon juice. Add a pinch of salt and toss with your hands to combine.
The finishing touches: In a large bowl, combine beans (you may have enough to reserve some for later use, depending on how many people you are serving), pesto, tomato, green onion and bread cubes. Toss to combine. Test for seasonings and add salt and pepper, if needed. Plate alongside a handful of arugula and a few slices of prosciutto. Garnish with shards of Parmesan cheese. Serve with a glass of your favorite white wine.