Dine at one of Charlotte’s locally owned Conte Group restaurants and you will be greeted by two things: (1) sweet little Italian men with rolling foreign accents and (2) the city’s best FREE appetizer. While a welcome reception upon entering a restaurant is key, I believe that one of the most important things you can provide is complimentary snacking. The Conte Group procures just the right amount of pre-dinner noshing at both of its locations; may it be in the quiet luxury of Toscana or the family-style ease of Mezzanotte. At both restaurants, they award their patrons with luscious white beans marinated in what I can only imagine to be Italy’s finest olive oils.
The quality of the olive oil may be lost on most. However, when you consider that they immerse their cooked beans in 3 cups of olive oil, then you gain an understanding that excellence in its simplicity indeed counts. The only reason I know the amount of olive oil used in their infamous “Fagiloi Al Fiasco,” is because they published their Tuscan Bean Dip in the 2003 Charlotte Taste Cookbook. This passionate collection of recipes is a tribute to the rigor and enthusiasm my city has for putting forth incredible dishes. And, moreover, it shows the chefs’ willingness to share their talents and tips with their humble public.
Although their Tuscan Bean Dip was published over 14 years ago, the basic premise withstands the test of time: use the freshest ingredients, season the finished dip well, and allow the flavors to develop over time (e.g. the longer it chills in the refrigerator, the richer and more creamy it becomes!). All this guidance lead me to create my unique version of marinated white beans. You will find my recipe uses two kind of beans, great northern and cannellini, as well as cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, shallots, garlic, lemon zest, balsamic vinegar, honey…and of course olive oil.
This is a tribute to amazing memories made over numerous bread baskets at “Meatball Mondays,” aka Mezzanotte as my kids never could get the pronunciation right. But, I always knew where they wanted to go when they started to describe the place up the street where we got “free beans” before ‘sghetti!
xoxo, and here’s to honoring local chefs everywhere and finding inspiration in simple dishes. E.
- 1 15.5 oz can Great Northern Beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 15.5 oz can Cannellini Beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 c Cherry Tomatoes, quartered
- ¼ c Fresh Basil, julienned, loosely packed
- 2 T Shallot, finely chopped
- 2 Garlic Cloves, minced
- Zest of 1 Large Lemon
- ½ c Olive Oil
- 1 T Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 T Honey
- ½ t Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- ½ t Salt
- ½ c Olive Oil
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the beans,cherry tomatoes and fresh basil; set aside.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients (with the olive oil poured in slowly as the last ingredient), until emulsified. FYI - You basically are making a vinaigrette for a bean salad.
- Dress the bean mixture with the "vinaigrette" and toss well. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Serve with pita chips or a toasted baguette, enjoy!