When November approaches, umbrellas crop up all over Florence. I asked Elena Galluzzi, a busy Florentine who runs a family hotel here, what she likes to cook this time of the year. Her answer? ‘Hearty bean soups and stews,’ she said, ‘a truly traditional dish to prepare when the days grow shorter and the weather turns rainy and cold.’ Elena loves to cook and entertain, and she does both with passion and flair. She is the type of cook who honestly loves to be in her kitchen and all of her recipes are of the old school—that is, they require both time and focus. But never fear. Her recipes provide for excellent results that will put you into her camp for sure. No shortcuts here, just honest and pure local fare cooked the way generations of Tuscans before her have done.
Beans have always been a staple in Italian cuisine, and these recipes focus on two Tuscan favorites, cannellini and ceci. Cannellini are fairly large, creamy white beans that maintain their shape well when cooked and have a mellow flavor. They are available year-round and are sometimes referred to as white kidney beans. High in protein and low in fat, they are also an excellent source of iron. Ceci, on the other hand, are smaller and rounder in shape, with a nuttier flavor. They are a good source of zinc and are high in protein and dietary fiber. The name ‘ceci’ derives from the Latin name Cicer, as in Cicero!
Here are two recipes sure to warm you up on a cool, rainy night. They will fill your house with aromas that beckon you light fires, close the shutters, and settle in for a cozy night at home. Be generous and invite others to share in your comfort!
PASTA E CECI (for 6)
500 grams ceci beans
5 cloves of garlic
¼ cup passata di pomodoro
Wash ceci well in two or three baths of water, inspecting and discarding any discolored beans. Place in a large pot, cover with water and allow to soak overnight.
Drain the beans, rinse them well and place in a stock pot with abundant water. Add two cloves of garlic, unpeeled, a few sage leaves, one teaspoon salt and bring to a boil.Simmer slowly for about two hours until the beans begin to soften.
Reserving the cooking liquid, pass all but one cup of the beans through a food mill.As you are doing this, add some of the reserved liquid when necessary to keep the mixture thin. This mixture will have to be liquid enough to cook the pasta.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat 6 tablespoons of olive oil with 3 cloves of garlic and 3 sprigs of rosemary over low heat to make a flavored oil.After about ten minutes of cooking, strain out the herbs and garlic and add the flavored oil to the pot of ceci sauce.
Stir well and add the passata and the cup of whole chickpeas and stir the mixture well.
Add 300 grams of pasta and cook for about 12 minutes until the pasta is done, stirring occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking. Ladle into soup bowls, garnish with a sprig of rosemary and drizzle a little olive oil over the top.
FAGIOLI ALL’ UCCELLETTO
CON SALSICCE(for 6)
For the beans:
800 grams cannellini beans, dry
2 small tomatoes, chopped
For the sausage:
10 fresh sausages
5 cloves garlic
1 can (400 grams) pomodori pelati
½ cup passata di pomodoro (tomato puree)
Wash and inspect the beans, removing any that are discolored.Place the beans in a large stockpot with about 5 liters of water and cook slowly over low heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 small tomatoes that have been chopped into small pieces, a few sprigs of sage leaves and 1 teaspoon of salt.When the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about two hours until the beans become soft, stirring occasionally.
(Note: The beans may be cooked a day ahead and refrigerated.)
Meanwhile, in a heavy stockpot, place 5 cloves of garlic and a few sprigs of sage leaves into about 6 tablespoons of olive oil and cook over medium heat. Pierce each sausage on all sides with a fork and add to the pot. Let them brown evenly and slowly over medium heat for about 10 minutes.Add 1 can of pomodori pelati and ½ cup passata and stir well.Let the mixture cook slowly for about half an hour.Add a pinch of black pepper and taste to see if salt is required (the sausages contain salt and you may not need to add any more).
Add the cooked cannelli beans, stir to mix well and heat throughout.Cover and remove from heat and allow to sit for half an hour before serving. Serve with a hearty Tuscan red wine.