While tomatoes are Carmelina Brands’ bread and butter, if you will, it also imports a variety of beans—and no additives there, either, as discussed in my post about the Mission Viejo company last week. I rarely buy canned beans, preferring to cook from dry, but the Italian lentils intrigued me. I used them in a quick-and-dirty bruschetta topping one evening, using garlic from my neighbor’s garden and basil from my own, and was inordinately impressed.
Can lentils be beautiful? These were—tiny, mink-brown, almost perfectly round rather than flying-saucer-shaped—like a mini, lighter version of the recently trendy black, so-called beluga lentils, but with not a whit of the chalkiness that afflicts the black type. They were fabulous. What type of lentils are they? Carmelina President and C.E.O. Matt Maslowski says only, “A trade secret… purchased from a small farmer who will not share his secret to growing them.” Looks like I’ll be stocking Italian lentils in a can in my pantry.
Then, another night, another easy app needed, I went to the far end of the spectrum, size-wise, and used what in small-print Italian on the Carmelina label are described as as fagioli Bianchi di Spagna—Spanish white beans—which sounds a good deal more sophisticated than the “butter beans” that appears in English-language large type. No matter—giant, chamois-colored, smooth in texture and yes, buttery in flavor—they were delicious in a similar treatment with a different herb.
Every cook needs quick hits like this in his or her back pocket. The simple, flexible recipe for the bruschetta topping follows. I used basil with the lentils, and sage with the butter beans. The bread can be toasted conventionally, or under the broiler, or grilled, if the grill happens to be active. A really green, flavorful olive oil is nice for finishing, but not absolutely essential—I happened to have a delicious young olive oil from Olive Hill Farm in Santa Ynez recently received as a gift, and it was perfect as a drizzle. For the initial seasoning, though, use your regular, good-quality extra virgin.
Find Carmelina products at Bristol Farms and Gelson’s in Newport Beach, Claro’s in La Habra and Tustin, Gelson’s in Irvine and Newport Beach, and Whole Foods Tustin and Huntington Beach stores, or online at Amazon.com.
Quick-and-Dirty Bruschetta Topping
1 can (14 ounces) Carmelina Italian lentils or butter beans, or legume of choice
Several leaves fresh basil or sage, or other fresh herb
Extra-virgin olive oil
Good-quality wine vinegar, optional
Sea salt, freshly-ground pepper
12 small, 1/2-inch-thick slices rustic bread, or half-slices from a large-diameter loaf
1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled
Fresh green extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing, optional
Large-gauge sea salt, or flakes such as Maldon, for garnish
Rinse legumes, drain well, and place in mixing bowl. Cut the basil or sage into fine chiffonade and add. Season with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a few drops of vinegar if desired, sea salt, and freshly-ground pepper, mixing very gently. Set aside.
Toast or grill bread on both sides until deep golden. Rub one side of each slice with garlic, lightly covering surface.
Arrange toast garlic side up, and distribute bean mixture among the slices. Drizzle a little fresh green olive oil, if using, and garnish with large-gauge salt and additional pepper if desired.