SERVES 4 TO 6
Dried beans were historically considered "poor man's meat" and have been one of the main sources of protein in Italy and worldwide. So it is not surprising to see so many dishes made with beans. In Tuscany, and in particular in Florence, cooking beans is serious business.
Beans are to Florentine cooking what rice and polenta are to Venetian cooking. Beans cooked in a flask, beans served at room temperature with onions and olive oil, beans pureed into soup, and beans spread over crusty bread and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil are but a few of the ways to prepare them. Cannellini beans are white and creamy in texture; they are used both fresh and dried.
For this recipe, use dried beans instead of the canned supermarket variety, which is very salty and just not as good a representation of the real taste. If not available, substitute dried white kidney or Great Northern beans. Soak the beans overnight to save time when making this dish.
1 cup dried cannellini beans
3 cups water for soaking beans, then fresh water for cooking them
2/3 cup Filippo Berio extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red Spanish onion, diced
1/3 pound chunk of pancetta, diced
3 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 pound fettuccine
1/4 cup reserved pasta cooking water
Grated Pecorino cheese for sprinkling
Soak the beans overnight in 3 cups of cold water. Next day, drain the beans, which will have swelled in size, and place them in a 2-quart saucepan and cover them with fresh cold water. Bring the water to a boil, lower the heat to medium-high, and cook the beans until a knife is easily inserted into them. Do not overcook the beans or they will split and disintegrate in the water. Drain and set aside.
In a sauté pan, heat 1/3 cup of the olive oil. Stir in the onions and pancetta and sauté until the onions are soft and the pancetta is browned. Stir in the sage and sauté, stirring frequently, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the beans and stir them gently to coat them with the oil and sage. Season with the salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and set aside while the fettuccine is cooking.
Cook the fettuccine in 4 to 6 quarts of rapidly boiling water to which 1 tablespoon of salt has been added. Cook just until the fettuccine is al dente, meaning that the fettuccine is cooked through, retains its shape, and is still firm, not mushy. Drain the fettuccine into a strainer and add it with the reserved cooking water directly to the sauté pan. Stir in the remaining olive oil and quickly reheat the mixture, stirring constantly until hot. Transfer the mixture to a serving platter and serve at once. Pass grated Pecorino cheese on the side.
Note: Do not be alarmed at the amount of olive oil used in this recipe. The beans absorb a lot of it so if you want to cut down on the amount of oil, remember that the dish will be drier in taste.
Did you know that Tuscans have Central America to thank for introducing cannellini beans into Italy? Beans were imported to Italy in the sixteenth century. Look for these beans under the name of white kidney or Great Northern beans.
Want More Recipes? See My Latest Book:
Mary Ann returns to her family's humble beginnings to bring us a treasure trove of more than 200 time-honored recipes.
Buy it now from Amazon for just $24.00
A Testimonial From Mario Batali:
This collection epitomizes the tradition and love that goes into all of Mary Ann Esposito's cooking. Like her award-winning TV series, this book will live on for years with all of those who cook her delicious recipes. My kids love everything Mary Ann cooks!"