Boil the beans in a large pot with water to cover by 2 inches for 10 minutes. Lower the heat and add the 5 garlic cloves, sage leaves, bay leaves, and 2 teaspoons of oil. Simmer, covered, until the beans are tender, about 1 1⁄2 hours. Remove the bay leaves and drain, reserving the broth.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Rub the head of garlic with a little of the remaining oil, put it in a small baking dish, and add 1/3 cup water. Cover and bake until soft and lightly caramelized, about 45 minutes. Cool and then peel or squeeze out the softened garlic.
Purée the beans in a food processor with all the garlic, the remaining oil, 1 teaspoon salt, Add lemon and broth to taste and to provide a soft, spreadable consistency. Season to taste with pepper and salt. Stir in the thyme leaves and serve warm.
Variations with Basil Purée or Chives: For this summer version, omit the sage and add 1 cup basil leaves. For chive version, chop 1/4-1/2 cup chives and add at the end of processing.
White Bean Pâté: Oil or line a small deep bowl or a narrow bread pan with plastic wrap, add the puree, and smooth it down. Turn it out onto a serving dish and peel away the plastic. Smooth the top with a spatula dipped in hot water, garnish with sage or basil leaves.
Photo credit: Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
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