Mangiare i fagioli! Really be like a Tuscan?!?

The food companies and marketeers know that if you want Americans to like something, call it Tuscan, or put Tuscany in the name.  I should start a contest for the most absurdly non-Tuscan item that one can find in American supermarkets or on menus in restaurants.   I’ll come up with some kind of interesting prize for good examples.

It’s almost as if to Americans, the only part of Italy that exists is Tuscany, thanks to Frances Mayes and others, despite the fact that most Italian-Americans would trace their heritage to places much further south, where the foods and climate, and even the olive oils are different.

As one learns more about Italy, one learns that Toscana is the home of bread without salt (since salt was taxed by the Florentine government, and avoiding taxes is something Italians enjoy doing,  and evidently i toscani have done this for a very long time), thick steaks on a grill, lots of bean dishes, and particularly peppery, (or even harsh?) olive oils.

I found the following recipe in the Joy of Cooking (copyright 1997), and you’ll have to be your own judge as to how Tuscan the recipe is.  I personally prefer olive oils from Liguria (more floral and light) to those of  Toscana, so mine would miss a little authenticity here. But the beans are still good, and not hard to make.

Classic Tuscan Beans

(according to Rombauer, Rombauer Becker, Becker, et. al. Be your own judge.)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups /1 lb. dried beans (cannellini, pinto or cranberry)
  • 12 sage leaves, fresh or dried
  • 3 cloves garlic, halved
  • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt, pepper

Garnish, for each portion:

  • 1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Tuscan

Process:

  1. Pick over the beans, removing any detritus. Rinse them. Soak  the beans overnight, or for several hours (I didn’t pre-soak. I just cooked them longer. ). Drain.
  2. Combine beans in a large pot with sage, garlic, and 1 Tbs. oil.  Add water to cover by 3 inches. Bring to a simmer, partially cover, and simmer gently until tender, about 1 hour (Don’t boil the crap out of them, because the skins will break.  Trust me here.). Drain.
  3. Season beans to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.  Garnish with additional olive oil.
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