For the bean dip:
1 cup dried white beans, such as Great Northern
beans or cannellini beans
4 shallots, 3 to 4 oz. total
5 3⁄4 cups low-sodium chicken stock or water
1 bay leaf
1 small bunch fresh chives
4 to 6 fresh chervil sprigs (1 tsp dried)
2 or 3 fresh tarragon sprigs
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 1⁄2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
1 roma tomato
2 or 3 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
Pita chips or crudités, such as fluted cucumber
slices, blanched green or yellow beans, or
red bell pepper sticks
Soak the beans
Place the beans in a large colander. Sort through the beans and discard any that are wrinkled or blemished, along with any pebbles or grit. Rinse the beans well under running cold water and transfer them to a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Let the beans soak in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or up to overnight. As the beans rehydrate, they will soften and expand, which speeds their cooking. Discard any husks that float to the top of the water. Drain the beans in the colander and rinse the pan.
Finely dice the shallots
Cut the shallots in half lengthwise and peel each half. One at a time, place the shallot halves, cut side down, on the cutting board. Alternately make a series of lengthwise cuts, parallel cuts, then crosswise cuts to create 1D8-inch dice. Be sure to stop just short of the root end; this holds the shallot half together as you cut.
Cook the beans
Return the beans to the saucepan. Add the chicken stock, diced shallots and bay leaf. Place over high heat, cover and bring the stock to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally. As soon as you see bubbles start to form, reduce the heat to a level where small bubbles occasionally break the surface of the liquid. Partially cover the pot and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the beans taste creamy in the center and are completely tender, 45 to 55 minutes. (If the beans are not new crop, that is, harvested within the last year, they may take longer to cook.)
Snip the chives and mince the herbs
While the beans are simmering, prepare the herbs. First, snip the chives: Using kitchen scissors, snip the chive blades into tiny pieces. Measure out 2 Tbs. snipped chives. Then, mince the chervil: Remove the leaves from the chervil sprigs and discard the stems. Gather the leaves into a small pile. Holding down the knife tip with one hand, chop the chervil, moving the blade up and down in a rhythmic motion until the leaves are uniformly chopped into very fine pieces, or minced. Measure out 2 Tbs. minced chervil. Repeat to mince the tarragon and measure out 1 Tbs.
Coarsely puree the bean mixture
When the beans are cooked, drain them through a sieve set over a large bowl to reserve the cooking liquid. Discard the bay leaf. Transfer 2D3 cup of the beans to a bowl and set aside. Transfer the remaining beans to a food processor. Using brief pulses, process the beans until they are coarsely pureed, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Finely puree the bean mixture
With the food processor motor running, slowly pour 1D2 cup of the reserved cooking liquid through the feed tube. Stop the machine and check the puree; it should be thin and light but thick enough to hold its shape. Add a little more of the liquid if necessary. Reserve the remaining liquid for another use. Now, process the mixture for 2 to 3 minutes more, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until a fine puree forms. With the processor running, drizzle the olive oil and lemon juice through the feed tube. Then, use the rubber spatula to scrape the puree into a bowl.
Add the whole beans and remaining seasonings
Add the reserved whole beans, chives, chervil, tarragon and salt to the puree. Stir well with the rubber spatula. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 5 hours or up to overnight to allow the flavors to develop.
Bring the bean mixture to room temperature
Remove the bean mixture from the refrigerator about 2 hours before serving to bring it to room temperature. The flavors will be most pronounced after the chill has faded.
Prepare the tomato
First, seed the tomato: Cut the tomato in half crosswise through its “equator.” Hold each tomato half over a bowl and use a finger to scoop out the seed sacs and any excess liquid. Discard the seed sacs and liquid. Then, dice the tomato: Using a chefs knife, cut out the core if necessary. One at a time, place a tomato half, cut side down, on a cutting board and cut into slices 1D8 inch thick. Stack 2 or 3 slices at a time on their sides and cut into 1D8-inch strips. Finally, cut the strips crosswise into 1D8-inch dice. Stir three-fourths of the diced tomato into the bean dip.
Adjust the seasonings
Taste the dip. It should taste primarily of the white beans, with accents of the herbs and lemon juice. If you feel it tastes dull, stir in a small amount of salt and lemon juice until you are happy with the flavor balance. You can also add a touch more of the minced herbs if you like a stronger herbal flavor.
Serve the dip
Transfer the dip to a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining diced tomato. Mince the parsley and sprinkle on top. Accompany with pita crisps or with a platter of crudités. Serve immediately. Makes about 3 cups; serves 6 to 8.
Chef’s Tips: When chopping and mincing herbs, be sure to dry the rinsed herbs completely before you start to cut them. A salad spinner is a good tool to use. Wet herbs are frustrating to work with because they stick to the knife.
Bean dips are the perfect hors doeuvres to make in advance, especially since you need to soak the beans overnight. Consider making the dip 2 or even 3 days before your party to give the flavors extra time to develop. Be sure you dont add the tomato garnish until just before serving. Tomatoes turn mealy when refrigerated.
If you don’t have time to soak beans overnight, try this shortcut: Put the beans in a deep pot, add water to cover by 3 to 4 inches and bring to a simmer. Remove the pot from the heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain and proceed with the recipe, starting with the paragraph that says, “Finely dice the shallots.”
If you don’t have time you can use canned beans as well.