Tuscan Beans (My Way)

These beans are creamy, luxurious and packed with salty, spicy intensity.  Although they’re not cooked in terra cotta, as is customary in Italy, they are every bit as luxurious and irresistable as beans I’ve had in Italy.

Beans take one day’s advance planning to allow for the overnight soak.  I’ve tried the quick-soak method and it never works to my satisfaction.  The quick-soak method involves placing the beans in cold water then bringing to a boil.  The beans are allowed to sit in the cooking liquid for one hour, then drained and used as pre-soaked beans would be.  In my opinion, the quick-soak compromises the texture of the beans and promotes their disintegration in the final cooking.  To me, they end up having the texture of canned beans.

Incidentally, my mother maintains that her mother never pre-soaked white beans–she simply cooked them in one step from start to finish.  I still prefer to soak my beans overnight prior to cooking.

After soaking and draining, the beans are placed in a pot of salted water or broth (I’m using the cooking liquid from my kale the other evening–it made a brilliant broth).  In addition, whole cloves of garlic, whole shallots, sprigs of rosemary, sage leaves, whole black peppercorns, parmigiano rind, and diced pancetta are added.  The whole pot is brought to a simmer, then placed in a 300 degree oven for about 2 hours.  A portion of the beans are then removed, pureed and returned to the pot.  This makes for a salty, creamy, herbaceous soup that is great with some pasta or by itself with some bruschetta.

This evening, instead of bruschetta, I was fortunate enough to have a batch of freshly baked friselle from my mother, who was visiting for my neighbor Beppi’s 90th birthday.

Although these friselle might resemble bagels in the photo, they are actually more like a cracker.  They are baked, then split and baked a second time on low heat for a long time, until they’re crispy right to their core (like biscotti, which actually means “twice-cooked”).  Go serve, they are then dampened with water and dressed like a bruschetta, or in tonight’s case, they’re placed in the bottom of a soup bowl, then the soup is ladled on top.  They are unique and addictive.   Because they’re made with a combination of whole-wheat and white flour, they retain a sturdy, nutty quality, even when wet.

Also tonight, I happen to have a bit of boiled kale from my pasta the other evening, so I’ve tossed the remainder into the beans–a wonderful combination.

The beauty of these beans is that they can be made, then frozen without sacrificing any quality.  Therefore, make a large batch of it and enjoy it throughout the colder months.

Tuscan Beans (My Way)

serves 4 – 6

1 lb dried white (cannellini beans), soaked in water overnight then drained

3 oz. pancetta, thinly sliced, then diced into 1/2″ pieces

8 sage leaves

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

6 peeled shallots, cut in half

6 cloves of garlic, cut in half lengthwise

12 whole black peppercorns

2 1/2 qts chicken or vegetable broth

1 small piece (aproximately 4″ x 2″) rind from the parmigiano, rinsed and dried

1/4 c pecorino romano, cut into 1/4 dice

1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzling at the table

extra pecorino for sprinkling at the table

1 c cooked, chopped kale (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a dutch oven (I used enameled cast iron), place all ingredients and bring to a simmer.

Cover pot and place in pre-heated oven for approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours (until beans are cooked through and creamy inside but still maintain a slightly toothy exterior).

Remove beans from oven and drain them in a strainer, keeping all the liquid in a separate bowl. Remove rosemary branches (leaving the stray needles in).  Place 2 cups of beans in the food processor (include some rosemary and sage leaves) along with 1/2 cup cooking liquid.  Process to a smooth puree.

Return the beans to the pot, along with bean puree and enough bean cooking liquid to make the mixture creamy but not too soupy.  Add in the kale, if using.  Serve with bruschetta, grated pecorino romano and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.  May be frozen indefinitely, without any ill-effects.

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