Serves: Makes 10 to 12 servings
- 1 pound dry white beans (Great Northern or navy)
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2½ teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 2 cups well packed watercress sprigs, stems removed (about 2½ ounces)
- 1½ cups grated Gruyère or Emmenthaler cheese
- 1 cup plain dried bread crumbs
Procedures:Peppery, vibrant watercress with creamy white beans is a delicious combination that pairs well with many main courses. Cooking with dry beans often means an overnight soak in cold water before cooking them. But I use a shortcut that allows you to complete the dish in the same day.
- To quick-soak the beans, place in a large saucepan with enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Let sit for 1 hour.
- Drain the beans well and return to the pan. Add the onion, thyme, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the pepper. Add cold water to cover by about 1 inch (about 5 cups). Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the beans are tender. Drain the beans over a bowl to retain the cooking liquid; discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Set aside 1 cup of the beans and place the rest in a large bowl. Return the cooking liquid to the pan and boil over mediumhigh heat for 15 minutes, until reduced to about 1½cups.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- In a blender, purée the 1 cup reserved beans with the reduced cooking liquid, olive oil, vinegar, half of the garlic, and the remaining 1½ teaspoons salt. Add the purée to the whole beans, stirring gently to blend.
- Stir the watercress (reserving a small handful of leaves for garnish), ¾ cup of the cheese, and ½ cup of the bread crumbs into the bean mixture. Scrape into a 12-inch gratin dish. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining garlic, ¾ cup cheese, and ½ cup bread crumbs. Sprinkle over the beans. Bake the gratin for about 25 minutes, until bubbly and golden. Spoon the beans onto individual plates and garnish with the remaining watercress sprigs.