Tuscan cooking is famous for its simplicity. Like the best cooking in the rest of Italy, it is a feast of regional dishes using locally-produced ingredients.
But in Tuscany, these dishes are often minimal in terms of the number of ingredients used. Tuscan bread, for example, is made solely of flour, yeast and water – no salt.
Even when they splurge, Tuscans keep their food simple. Nothing is more elegant to them than a porterhouse or T-bone steak, and Tuscans are famous for their bistecca alla fiorentina. Using what is arguably the best meat in Italy, from local Chianina cattle, this grilled steak is served with just a splash of pungent extra virgin olive oil and a spritz of lemon juice.
Most of the time, despite the wealth brought to their region by a never-ending torrent of tourists and costly real estate, Tuscans frequently skip eating meat in favor of dishes featuring their crusty bread, like papa alla pomodoro, a soup simmered with fresh tomato sauce. And nearly every day, Tuscans eat beans.
Tuscans love beans so much so they are known throughout Italy as mangefagioli, the bean eaters. They have elevated cooking their beans to an art. Traditionally, this meant using a vessel called a fiasco, a tall clay container that some people say resembles a Chianti bottle because its narrow neck curves out into a bulbous bottom.
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Tuscans often start the cooking process with unsoaked dried beans, most often white cannelini, a kind of kidney bean, or speckled borlotti beans. They cook their beans very slowly, using gentle heat to produce the most creamy, tender result.
Their clay pots are traditionally nestled in the coals of a wood-fired brick oven but, in our real world, you can use canned cannelini, simmered slowly with sage, garlic and a splash of extra virgin olive oil – a pungent Tuscan oil, if possible.
The finished dish becomes creamier as it stands. It is excellent made a day or two ahead and reheated just before serving. Serve with dark greens braised with garlic as part of a meatless meal, or accompanying grilled shrimp or pork chops. It is only lightly seasoned, in the Tuscan style. Some Americans might prefer adding a little more seasoning zest with a pinch of cayenne pepper or hot sauce.
Yield: Makes 6 servings.
- 2 cans (15-oz. each) cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
- 6 large fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped, or 2 tsp. dried
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 1 onion, quartered
- 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 small carrot, finely chopped
- 1 small rib celery, finely chopped
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 plum tomato, seeded and chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish (optional)
- Place the beans in a deep saucepan. Add the sage, garlic, onion and 1 tablespoon oil. Pour in 1 cup water. Simmer uncovered 15 to 30 minutes, or until much of the liquid has evaporated and the beans are soft but not mushy. Remove the onion and, if desired, the garlic.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the carrot, celery and onion until the onion is translucent, 5 minutes. Add the tomato and cook 5 minutes longer. Stir the mixture into the beans. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm, garnished with parsley, if desired.
Nutritional Information Per Serving:
5 g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat)
25 g. carbohydrate
6 g. protein
7 g. dietary fiber
309 mg. sodium
Diabetic Exchanges: 2-1/2 Bread/Starch, 1 Low-Fat Meat, 1 Fat
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