This recipe for a delectable warm bean salad is based on the inspired creation of a chef at one of my favorite Italian restaurants, Centro, in Fairfield, Connecticut. Roman beans are large, relatively soft-textured beans used extensively in Italian cooking. They are pretty widely available in New England, as well as around the rest of the country, but if you can’t find them, the ubiquitous kidney bean will do just fine.
Pancetta is italian bacon that has been cured with salt and spices, but is not smoked. It is available in Italian markets and many supermarkets.
Warm Mixed Bean Salad with Pancetta on Watercress
- 6 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) diced pancetta or diced thick-sliced preservative-free bacon
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed until flat
- One 10-ounce package frozen lima beans, cooked and drained
- 1 1/2 cups drained canned Roman or red kidney beans
- 1 1/2 cups drained canned black beans
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 bags or bunches B&W watercress, trimmed
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus sprigs for garnish
- 1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
- Warm the 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the pancetta and cook until crisp and any fat is rendered, about 10 minutes. Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and reserve. Pour the fat out of the skillet but do not wash the skillet.
- Add the remaining 6 tablespoons oil and the garlic to the skillet. Cook over low heat until the garlic turns a pale golden brown, watching carefully so it doesn’t scorch, about 10 minutes. Remove the garlic with tongs, leaving the oil in the skillet.
- Add the lima beans, Roman beans, and black beans to the garlic oil in the skillet, raise the heat to medium-high and toss gently until heated through, about 4 minutes. Add the pancetta and lemon juice, and stir gently to combine. Add 1 bag of the watercress and cook until wilted, about 1 to 2 minutes. Season with the black pepper and salt to taste. (The salad may not need salt, as the pancetta or bacon is salty.)
- Spread the remaining 1 bag watercress out on a serving platter or on individual plates. Spoon the warm beans over the watercress and sprinkle with parsley. Garnish with the lemon wedges and parsley sprigs and serve.
*For a more assertive garlic flavor, mince 1 or 2 of the cooked cloves and stir them into the finished salad dressing.