White beans are ideal for dips because of their inherently creamy texture. Whether you use cannellini, great northern or navy beans, they blend up into a beautifully thick and creamy dip as long as they’re cooked all the way through (this is not the time for al dente beans). Aside from a whisper of nuttiness the flavor is very mild, which makes them an ideal canvas for all sorts of seasoning variations. This particular recipe is a personal favorite of mine and a regular request from friends when I bring snacks to a game day gathering. Equally delicious served with crudités or chips for dipping, it’s the perfect addition to your snack line up for the Super Bowl.
White beans are commonly featured in Tuscan cuisine, and I’ve paired them in this dip with other boldly-flavored, simple ingredients that help define the food of that region. Sun dried tomatoes are incredibly savory, packed with that “fifth flavor” we’ve now come to know as umami. There’s a richness and depth there that’s not always easy to achieve. Fortunately the tomatoes do much of the work for us! I prefer to use dry-packed tomatoes for this recipe because once I’ve rehydrated the tomatoes I can blend that flavorful soaking liquid right into the dip. The jarred tomatoes are usually packed in flavorless vegetable oil that I’d rather not use. When you’re shopping for the dried tomatoes, please try to find some that aren’t preserved with sulfites – these are commonly listed as potassium bisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, sodium sulfite, or sulfur dioxide (SO2). I know the bright red color is pretty and all, but there’s no need to consume preservatives when you can avoid them. I won’t get preachy about it, but they can also be migraine triggers and cause stomach problems for some people, including yours truly.
Garlic is another staple of Tuscan cuisine, and for this dip we’re transforming it by roasting the entire head before using. Roasting garlic caramelizes the naturally occurring sugars and mellows that bite you get with raw garlic, and you end up with soft and creamy nuggets bursting with nutty, sweet flavor. An entire head of garlic may seem like a lot, but I promise it’s not overpowering once it’s roasted.
I usually squeeze the roasted cloves directly into the food processor, but I wanted to show you what they look like so I did them in a bowl instead. See how soft they look? And that beautiful bronzing – that’s what you’re looking for on the exposed ends/tops of most of the cloves when you pull it from the oven. I was trying to use up errant cloves from a few different heads so I roasted them loose and got some lovely golden caramelization on the sides of a few as well.
The other featured flavor in this recipe is balsamic vinegar. You’ll want to use a good quality aged vinegar for this, or cook a decent supermarket vinegar down in a saucepan until it’s nice and syrupy. The basil and lemon are background players – they don’t announce themselves, but the dip would taste a bit flat without them. I know it can be difficult to find fresh basil this time of year so if you can’t track it down I suggest fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley as a substitute. Don’t use dried basil, as the flavor can be kind of musty and the texture of dried herbs isn’t great for a dip like this. Lemons are available year-round, and they’re at the height of the season now so please use a fresh lemon, not bottled juice. You’ll need a bit of the zest for the recipe anyway.
I’ve got all my ingredients in the food processor, so all that’s left to do is blend it to the right consistency. I like my dip with a little texture, so I don’t make it ultra smooth If that’s what you prefer, continue adding tomato liquid and olive oil until you get it where you want it.
There it is, all whipped up and ready for dipping. See how lovely the color is even though I used dark red, preservative-free tomatoes? Still, pretty as it may be, this white bean dip all about flavor. Go make some and see for yourself!
- 1 whole head of garlic (about 1 ½ oz)
- Fruity olive oil
- 1 ½ ounces sun-dried tomatoes, packed without oil
- 12 oz cooked white beans* (from ¾ cup or 170 grams dried)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- Several grinds of black pepper
- 1 tablespoon good balsamic vinegar
- 1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Roast garlic: Remove papery outer layers of garlic skin, but don’t peel or separate cloves. Cut ¼ to ½ inch off the top of the head of garlic, exposing individual cloves. Place on a sheet of foil, drizzle with olive oil, and wrap tightly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until cloves feel very soft when pressed and exposed ends of cloves are caramelized and bronzed. Unwrap and set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, hold over a bowl or piece of wax paper, and squeeze to extract roasted cloves.
- Hydrate tomatoes: Meanwhile, cover tomatoes with boiling water and let stand 10 minutes. Drain tomatoes in a colander over a bowl, reserving soaking liquid.
- Blend: Coarsely chop tomatoes and transfer to bowl of food processor. Squeeze in roasted garlic cloves (just hold the entire head over the bowl and press with equal pressure on all sides). Add ¼ cup reserved tomato soaking liquid and remaining ingredients and process until relatively smooth and creamy, drizzling in olive oil or more tomato liquid as necessary to achieve desired consistency. Season to taste with additional salt, pepper, balsamic or basil.