White Bean and Basil Spread (and The Return of the Sandwich!)

by Maria Theresa Maggi on August 13, 2014

White Bean and Basil SpreadDSC03075

Feeling at home on the electric range was just the beginning of what seems likely to become a chain of surprises revealing themselves in my new home. This latest story of surprise and enlightenment has roots that go all the way back to when I was first diagnosed with MS in 1996. One of the first things I did after receiving the diagnosis was engage a fine naturopath up in Spokane. He did a series of several tests for me, including the ELISA tests. I can still remember a follow-up phone conversation I had with this kind man. It went something like this:

Him: “The gluten in wheat is not the problem for you. It’s the wheat starch you have trouble with.” (He said this as if I were to understand this as good news.)

Me: But how do you completely separate the two? It’s pretty hard to have gluten without any residue of the starch, right?

Him: (Silence.)

Me: (Interpreted the silence as an affirmation of my own conclusion.)

Of course  he must have said something back to me, he was too kind and good a practitioner not to, but what I remember is the initial silence of hesitation, which I took to mean I had hit some kind of important nail on the head. The reason, even so many years later, that I eat gluten free and have designated my blog gluten free is not because I am celiac, or even gluten intolerant. It’s because of the starches that inevitably go with and cling to the gluten in wheat and rye. And unlike some people who tend to think that ” a little won’t hurt” I tend to stay on the side of being sure to go way out of my way to avoid that other proverbial time bomb, “the slippery slope.” It may be overkill, but in general, it’s worked quite well for me.

It would take something like the fine print in this FODMAPS PDF to arrive on the scene so many years later to explain why I also have always had trouble rotating wheat and rye back in, as the naturaopath had hoped I’d be able to do. And why I also had trouble in subsequent years digesting barley, and why I had to give up my once-beloved coffee substitute, Teeccino. Instead I went to straight chicory, thinking that would keep me safe from the gluten I might have somehow mysteriously developed a problem with. Or so I assumed. But it would take a FODMAPS list from Stanford, years later, to help me consider why eventually I also tossed out the chicory itself. It and wheat, rye and barley all have similar sugars in them that cause the kind of digestive cacaphony I had been so persistently trying to avoid.

So much has been learned since I was diagnosed with what the doctor then called “spastic colon” back in 1976. The way he explained it to me then was that while some people get headaches, I get digestive troubles in response to stress. He had me on an involuntary muscle relaxer, and I was to eat things like cottage cheese and hamburgers without condiments, chewing deliberately and slowly, and making sure not to eat with my family, who watched TV and yelled at it and each other more often than not. Although stress certainly is a factor, there’s still way more to learn about what causes these problems. But one thing that caught my eye on the FODMAP list was that spelt, although it is not gluten free, possesses a differently structured chemistry and physiology that does not contain the sugars that would make it a high FODMAP risk. So,  according to some sources anyway, on its own,  in bread or baked goods not combined with these other flours, it is considered inulin free and low FODMAP.

Something I’ve always enjoyed and longed to do as much as my drawing and painting is baking bread. In my teen years and early 20’s, I prided myself on expert pie crust learned from my grandmother. Her brothers ran a bakery, and I still own a pastry cloth passed down from them.   But my ultimate baking joy was homemade bread, which my sister still remembers loving to eat. I reveled in the process of kneading and letting the dough rise. I daydreamed about working in a bakery. In fact while I was in college I remember standing in front of one and trying to talk myself into what it would be like to go in there and ask for a job, quit my classes and get up at 4 in the morning to go in and bake. I never made it up to the counter. Instead I followed my parents’ wishes for me to finish college. Such daydreams have been deferred to later in life, but I find with delightful surprise, they are no less dear, and the feel of bread made by my own hands is even more satisfying than I remember, like shaking hands with a long lost friend.

Being a former bread maker, I have often surfed through articles and mentions  about how sourdough bread is more easily digestible than other kinds of wheat bread, and purportedly even some with celiac disease can eat it because of how the fermentation process alters the structure of the gluten. I thought back to a very hard time in my life when things were so tough for me I could hardly eat at all  My adrenaline was on high alert too much of the time. But I always could have a very plain sandwich or toast made from sourdough bread. And of course, being Italian, it was often a preferred choice of my Dad’s. Sourdough and I were old friends. But should we try getting reacquainted, and if so, how?

I’m certainly game to perform what I wryly (and inaccurately)  call “science experiments” on myself. In fact I prefer this to having someone else give me a list of foods to eat or not eat. I like the guidelines, of course, and they are necessary, but the true test is how my body feels when I do or don’t eat something. So I thought of buying some sourdough bread off the shelf. In fact I did, after standing there for 10 minutes and doing some rudimentary lymph testing on myself and  it over and over. But in the end, I gave it to a friend without opening the seal.  I decided to play it safe and start from scratch all the way down to a starter I made with pure spelt. After six years of no wheat and many more years of no wheat prior to that one year of experimentation with it, this would be the best way to know if spelt would work for me. There would be no question about whether it was the wheat or the spelt.

I’d tried spelt and kamut long ago in baking, but at the time, in efforts to recreate traditional family favorites, I was combining them with other ingredients like eggs or milk which I know now do me absolutely no good. So, with this new FODMAP information in hand, and my own hunch, I decided to give it the best shot possible–all by itself and in a sourdough context. (I’m not sure whether FODMAPS would endorse the fermentation of sourdough as low, but then again I am piecing my own healing quilt together, and using what I consider the best of both possibilities. So this is not a a fsatidiously researched “do as I do” or even “do as I say”  or “try this at home” direction. I’m just telling you a bit of how my process went, and how I decided to trust and follow a hunch supported by some of the things I read on the internet.)

Many waves of surfing sourdough recipes and how-to videos later, I landed on a combination of two recipes. First I made this one, from The Sit Down Cook, ad then I made this one, from Breadtopia (there are two people who commented extensively following FODMAPS who are successfully making and eating this bread, so I considered that  a good sign).  Then I combined elements from both recipes to get this:

whole meal spelt sourdough bread

I owe both these recipe a letter of thank you, along with my neighbor who supplied the thumb-sized piece of rhubarb for the starter. (Don’t you just LOVE that?! I HAD to try it, just because. . .)

Now the real question is how did I feel after eating this bread? The shock of my life is this: I felt BETTER. I kept waiting for the lump in my stomach, trouble in my colon and the weak-in-my-legs feeling that has always accompanied the eating of most all wheat bread, but it never came. Not only did it not arrive, I was most certainly absorbing the touted  nutrients like more B vitamins, higher protein, l-triptophan, and more I read about in this PDF. The water soluble nature of the fat in spelt was making it easy for my digestive system to make use of all these nutritional perks. I had more energy. I felt full without bloating. My legs felt stronger, not weaker.

So I didn’t stop at the bread. Buoyed  on by my own sense of adventure and how absolutely good I felt, I tried my hand at this  no oil sourdough pizza dough recipe and converted it to spelt. The first time I was wary, and added some gluten free flours. It came out rather flat and stiff, but alas, from trying to follow the directions to bake the whole thing on a sheet of baking parchment, it hit the floor somewhere between the oven and the counter I was aiming for. I scooped off the toppings and ate them with rice.

I went back to the drawing board in my mind and made some intrepid innovations in kneading and baking techniques. I heated up my Calphalon fryer in the oven and used it like a deep dish pizza stone. The result was the best pizza dough I can remember ever tasting. Here’s the picture I snapped as the battery in my camera was going dead, but you get the idea.

while spelt sourdough veggie pizza


The nice thing about these breads is that I do not feel compelled to overeat them, which, to me, is a sign of the absence of food intolerance. Since I can tolerate the spelt, my body seems to know when it’s had just enough. That’s a minor miracle of its own.

A sandwich has to have something to go in it. So I wanted to share a filling that can be converted nicely into a spread. It’s a soy free version of the filling in Susan’s Spaghetti Squash Pesto Lasagna. This was such a delightfully tasty surprise the first time I subbed it in to go in the lasagna recipe that I knew I could use it as a spread on its own. The sandwich you see at the top of this blog post is a “panini” I stuffed with baby romaine and this spread, flattening it in my non-stick frying pan with an old Le Creuset lid, which works perfectly.

This effect can also be achieved with gluten-free bread or corn tortillas, or if you want to avoid all that, toss it with a hot grain and some veggies. Or make the lasagna with it. You won’t be disappointed.

Sandwiches have many fond and loving associations for me. When my son was very small, he’d climb into bed with his Dad and me, and wiggle himself between us. “I want to be the peanut butter” he would say. And, playing the parts of the two pieces of bread, we’d squeeze him tight and he’d giggle with happiness. Our playfulness in acting out this metaphor has always reminded me of the times in my life there’s been nothing more comforting than a good sandwich. Even simple ones can be a meal unto themselves. The one I’ll never forget is the peanut butter sandwich on supermarket whole wheat my cousin Tom made me back in the late 70’s the night he insisted I come over to his apartment and tell him what was going on in my life. After he heard the horror story of the entanglement of my roommate in aiding and abetting an abusive relationship I was trying to get out of, he said, simply, “That’s it. You’re moving in with me.” And he made me a peanut butter sandwich and poured me a glass of white wine to go with it. It’s still the best sandwich anyone else has ever made me, because it came with the love and support I needed but had not been able to reach out for until that night.

My cousin Tom’s Dad, also named Tom, was famous in our family for his insistence on making anything he ate into a sandwich. I don’t think I’ll go that far, but I sure am glad I have the option, and that when I feel like it, I can savor the creativity of shaping the dough in my hands again, and foster the mysterious alchemy of the starter and the rise. Because like the song says, everything old is new again. Oh, what a wonderful surprise and enlightenment.


Maria (moonwatcher)


A note to my amazing readers: I want to assure those of  who need to be completely gluten free that the lion’s share  of my recipes will continue to be just that. If I do post an occasional baking recipe using spelt, I’ll also  include a gluten free option, too, whenever possible.

Leave a Comment

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Veronica August 14, 2014 at 10:32 am

That’s wonderful, Maria! And very interesting information, too – I didn’t know about the difference between sourdough vs regular and its effects. Coincidentally, I’ve been slowly adding wheat/etc back into my diet, too (I’m not celiac, either; tests just showed a sensitivity to wheat so I had cut it out) – and so far, so good! I also follow the “listen to my body” feedback, using tests and whatnot as just guidelines (and still mostly go gluten-free, but it’s nice to not have that restriction when traveling or whatnot). It’s really the best method. It also seems your body heals itself from earlier damage as you’re eating plant-based, so after time, you can slowly re-introduce items without the negative effects (and then just don’t over-do-it). The brain and body are truly miraculous things with their capacity to change and heal.

I will have to try your spelt bread! It looks amazing and so delicious (the pizza, too!!). I found a local gf bakery that makes a delicious gf sourdough bread – closest to the real deal that I’ve found yet, so I will continue to purchase that one, but sprinkle in some homemade, too! Having a sandwich is a nice comfort every now and then. And that spread sounds very tasty! I have a bunch of fresh basil that I need something to make with- perhaps I’ll do this.

Here’s to continuous healing and wonderful surprises. xoxo


2 moonwatcher August 14, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Hi Veronica! Thanks for this great comment and for sharing some of your own “listen to your body” experience. That’s really neat you can eat a little wheat now. I imagine it does make it easier when traveling and going out. It’s great, too, you have a great GF sourdough you can purchase in your neck of the woods. Glad the sandwich spread appeals to you too. I made the pizza again and it came out so good it might end up getting it’s own post down the line. And yes, bring on continuous healing and wonderful surprises for all of us!! xoxo


3 Debra Maslov August 14, 2014 at 11:14 am

Yum….your version of the white bean & basil spread looks wonderful. I especially love it’s simplicity & versatility. Glad to hear that the spelt sourdough is allowing you to return to your beloved baking of bread & pizza dough. Thank you for sharing!


4 moonwatcher August 14, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Hi Debra, glad you find the white bean and basil spread appealing! I’m happy, too, you enjoyed the story of my return to bread and pizza baking thanks to spelt. I feel very fortunate about that. Thanks for your kind well wishes!


5 Nicole O'Shea August 14, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Maria, What a fascinating way you have developed for testing what works for your diet! I have to admit, that bread looks tempting. When I first started McD-ing, I was eating a puffed kamut cereal for breakfast pretty much daily, and I still was improving. I like to stay on the safe side of things, too, so I have not tried any wheat out, but you’ve ot me thinking down the line of a sourdough bread….




6 moonwatcher August 14, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Oh, Nicole, thank you. I know you like to stay on the safe side of things, too, so I especially appreciate your wise thoughts on my strategy for venturing into some “new old” territory again. I know you will also listen to your own body about when or if it’s time to try something out down the line. . .xoxo


7 Danielle August 15, 2014 at 8:02 am

I, also, love baking bread, so I completely understand your missing it! It’s a tactile, sensual, fragrant, timeless and creative exercise.

As I had no family tradition about baking or cooking, I learned how to bake in my early twenties from the classic Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book. Every time I open my copy it brings back memories! And it’s got all those little stains and smudges of flour that tell me which recipes are my favorites.

I haven’t made bread in the past several months as we’ve been in hot weather (and who on earth wants to have the oven on when it’s 100 degrees out!?!? But supermarket – or even bakery – bread is just not the same! So I’m so happy for you that you have made your lovely loaf. It’s beautiful and must have given you so much satisfaction.

And that pizza! Looks delicious.


8 moonwatcher August 15, 2014 at 8:15 am

Hi Danielle! Thanks for your comment. I loved reading about your own love of bread baking and your time with Laurel’s Kitchen Bread book. I owned the main Laurel’s Kitchen book and it had all it’s time-honored smears as well from “loving” the pages so much while baking and cooking. I have to confess I was so crazy to try this sourdough experiment, that I started the starter when it was quite hot out, thinking it would take several days. But of course it was ready in a flash in the hot weather, so crazy person that I am, I tried to figure out a rising and proofing schedule that would have me baking the bread close to midnight! I felt like a true baker. LOL Thanks for sharing my happiness with me about this development. And the pizza. . .oh that pizza is probably going to get its own post one of these days. . .xo


9 Jaye August 15, 2014 at 11:09 am

Maria….You may be ‘undoing’ some of the good you’re doing for your body with healthy foods by using a non-stick skillet–particularly at high heat in an oven. Teflon, the usual coating that keeps food from sticking to cooking pans, emits dangerous chemicals that can wreak havoc with health. Here’s an explanation from the Environmental Working Group (EWG):


I’ve been using exclusively stainless steel, cast iron and heatproof glass for cooking for years. I hope you will consider the same.

To your health…. Jaye


10 moonwatcher August 15, 2014 at 11:42 am

Thanks for the suggestion, Jaye. It’s a temporary “fix”–I am looking for something else. In the meantime, my pan is not coated with teflon, per se, but whatever Calphalon uses. They say it’s safe in the oven up to 500 degrees.


11 Marcia August 15, 2014 at 12:13 pm

YUM! You had me when I read the word “pizza!” Always looking for something interesting to use on my pizza…By George I think I’ve got it! Thanks Maria


12 janet August 24, 2014 at 3:43 am

Nutrition information for white bean basil?


13 moonwatcher August 24, 2014 at 8:27 am

Welcome, Janet. I am sorry I can’t help you with that. Not equipped to give you the nutritional breakdown on any of my recipes. And no plans to do that, at least at this point.


14 Corrin Radd September 2, 2014 at 3:17 pm

We had this on sandwiches today and it was really good!


15 moonwatcher September 2, 2014 at 5:41 pm

So happy to hear this, Corrin! Thanks for letting me know. 🙂


16 angela September 5, 2014 at 7:44 pm

What a wonderfully interesting post Maria. Thank you : ) I’m sooo going to try the spread it looks so yummy. Thanks for the recipe. And I’ve always fancied trying to make sourdough bread but I tend to be a bit lazy and procrastinate too much : (

Just a curiosity question. Have you tried making or experimented with fermented vegetables and drinks? I had a little experiment with fermented veg once and as I wasn’t sure what they were supposed to taste like and they developed a sort of “mould” like substance on the top (I have read that that is supposed to be okay) so I fed them to my worm farm! The worms didn’t complain.

“Laurel’s Kitchen” was my first vegetarian book and I learned so much from her. I love it and still have it.

Thanks for the FODMAP information. Here’s to your very good health (and mine). Love Angela X


17 moonwatcher September 5, 2014 at 7:57 pm

Hi Angela–glad you enjoyed the post and that the spread looks yummy to you. I really enjoy it. To answer your question, no, I haven’t done much of that. I tried making my own “pear cider vinegar” but it got moldy and wasn’t supposed to. That put me off. And then other things require steps I don’t feel confident I’d do write. And I’m not a huge fan of kimchi or kombucha. One of my neighbors made it, but it really upsets my stomach. That might be part of how I fit the FODMAP profile. We’re all a little different in what our guts can take. 🙂 And oh, YAY for Laurel’s Kitchen! 🙂


18 angela September 6, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Maria how happy I am that you said you don’t care much for kimchi truth be told I don’t think I do either…haven’t tried any commercial stuff (which is often worse) so I thought it was my not very good skills in the kitchen : ) My daughter has IBS and I thought I should be creating these things for us because everyone seems to be healing their gut with these “miracle” foods. And so many people say how delicious they are….I don’t care much for salt so maybe that’s part of it. I think I’ll go back to digging my garden before the 45 degree heat comes in summer…then all my good work is undone : ( Ah woe is me…
Love Angela X


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