Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fagioli all'uccelletto

This Tuscan bean dish is perfect on a cold, gloomy day, like the ones we've finally started having here in California!

Fagioli all'uccelletto, which means something like "beans in the style of the little bird" is a Tuscan and particularly a Florentine specialty, which is generally made with cannellini (the white, kidney-shaped beans). It's ridiculously simple, but I always forget that often the most delicious dishes are ridiculously simple - for example my personal favorite thing to eat in the world - bread and cheese!

As for the name, from what I can gather it seems that the most likely explanation is that these beans are prepared with the same seasonings people would use to cook birds. Makes sense to me, but I like to think there's a stranger, more romantic explanation somewhere...

For a large pot (serves about 4), you will need:
400 g. dried cannellini (you can also use the canned variety which cuts out a whole lot of preparation time)
250 g. tomatoes
Several leaves of sage (I've also used dried sage when I couldn't get any fresh and I can assure you that fresh is better)
A couple cloves of garlic
Olive oil

If you're using dried beans, they will need to soak for at least 8 hours, preferably 10-12 or even more. If you leave them to soak before going to bed, they should be fine for the next day. Rinse the beans first, then put them in a pot and fill the pot with water. If possible, change the water every so often.

Approximately an hour and a half before you plan to eat, bring the water with the cannellini in it to a boil, and then let them simmer for at least 45 minutes. It's important to turn the heat down quite low after the water starts boiling so that the cannellini don't turn into mush!

While the cannellini are simmering, peel the garlic cloves and crush them. Wash the sage leaves and chop them up quite finely. If you're using fresh tomatoes, bring some water to a boil, wash the tomatoes, and use a paring knife to carve a little x into the bottom of each tomato. When the water's boiling, throw the tomatoes in and let them sit for about 30 seconds.

Drain the tomatoes and rinse them quickly with cold water. The peels should come off quite easily now and the tomatoes should be cool and easy to handle. Deseed the tomatoes if you're up to it - or at least try to get rid of the core and the juice. Chop up the remaining pulp.

In a large pot, heat some olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and sage and let cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds or so. Turn the heat down and add the tomato pulp. Sprinkle everything with salt and pepper.

Drain the beans and pour them in (or for the canned variety, rinse them off and add them in). Stir everything up, and then cover the pot. Turn the heat to the lowest degree and let cook about 30 minutes, stirring every so often.

Eat and enjoy!

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