People ask me all the time how I come up with recipe ideas…

…and there’s no straightforward answer, other than reading a ton of cookbooks, following my favorite food people on Instagram, experimenting with new ingredients as often as possible, and then waiting for the magic to happen. Sure, sometimes I’ll spy a gorgeous Japanese eggplant at a farmer’s market and inspiration will pour forth, but more often than not, the spark is decidedly less romantic. Take this meal, a keeper if there ever was one, which I conceptualized after throwing two cans of butter beans into my shopping cart which happened to land right next to a bunch of leeks and a pack of “European-style” butter. I love leeks so much, and the idea of cooking them down in butter — maybe even a little more butter than usual — then adding butter beans? There was something poetic about it, and then I couldn’t get the combination out of my mind.

Beans and Buttered Leeks

When I got to work executing the vision, I knew I was going to need some acid — either vinegar or lemon — and definitely some texture. I really love beans, but without a little crunch, a generous helping of them can be as dutiful as a bowl of homework. Herewith, the final result, and I’m pleased to say, the leftovers were even better.

Beans and Buttered Leeks with Garlicky Toasted Breadcrumbs
It is all. about. those. toasted. breadcrumbs. I didn’t have my usual stash of store-bought breadcrumbs, so I lightly toasted two small-ish pieces of Tuscan bread, then whirled them in the food processor. (If you have stale bread, you can skip the toasting.) It made the final product extra craggy and crispy, and if you have time to prepare them that way, go for it. Otherwise, store-bought will work just fine. It’s hearty enough to work as a meal, especially with a green salad or slice of crusty bread.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced finely
shake or two of red pepper flakes
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup bread crumbs (regular, panko or fresh)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large leek, cleaned, trimmed, and chopped
3 cups (or 2 15-ounce cans) cooked butter or lima beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Add olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, to a large skillet set over low heat and cook for about one minute. Turn heat to medium-high and add breadcrumbs in one layer. Let sit on the bottom of the skillet for one minute, then toss and let sit again. You want the crumbs to be toasted and crispy, but you don’t want the garlic to burn, so as soon as you see they are crispy (taste one), remove them from the skillet into a small bowl.

Add butter to the same skillet and turn heat to medium. Once butter is melted, add the leeks and cook until soft and sweet, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often. Add the beans, tossing to integrate, and cook until everything is warmed through, about 5 more minutes. It’s ok if the beans break down a bit, I find it lets them absorb a little more of the leek and butter flavor — which is especially appreciated if you are using canned beans. Remove from heat and stir in the vinegar. Serve in bowls with a drizzle of olive oil, a generous topping of bread crumbs.

P.S. My love affair with cabbage and the power of  a “hook” at dinner.