Creamy Tuscan Beans
One month ago, I cooked for the last time at Union Street Cafe. It was a doozy of a night for sure, but I didn’t just walk out the door (though me and every line cook ever have fantasized about doing just that). It was planned.
I had already brought my beloved cookbooks home and cried a few tears into my focaccia dough. This kitchen had been my second home for 15 years, a place where my children grew up, my urges to create were satisfied, and where I had made at least 15,000 clubhouse sandwiches. It’s where my sister and I planned nearly a thousand concerts and events, with rarely a harsh word between us.
Whether it is my recent (intended and highly anticipated!) unemployment or the fact that it is still really winter in Nova Scotia for another month, we’ve been eating a lot of hearty peasant food. And really digging it. It’s satisfying to know that you can feed your family, healthfully and deliciously, for just a few dollars.
This recipe is Italian in origin and is adapted from Alice Water’s inspirational Chez Panisse Cookbook. So it’s really best with some crusty bread (Marie et Guy French Bakery is incroyable, find them at their store in Kingston, Kentville Farmer’s Market and Annapolis Royal Farmer’s Market), perhaps some locally made sausage, a glass of red wine, and an appreciation for the finer, simpler things in life.
Creamy Tuscan Beans
3 cups Navy, Pea, or other small Beans
2 Bay Leaves
4 sprigs Parsley
1 tablespoon dried Sage or 2 sprigs fresh Sage
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic
pinch of Red Pepper Flakes
1 teaspoon ground Fennel Seed
1 teaspoon dried Rosemary, crushed
To serve: Olive Oil, Black Pepper, Parmesan Cheese (optional)
Soak the beans overnight in plenty of water to cover. The next day, drain them place in a large, heavy pot with the bay leaves, parsley, sage, one of the onions, quartered, and one of the carrots, cut in chunks. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer. After the beans begin to soften (an hour or more) add a generous amount of salt and continue to cook until very tender.
Meanwhile, finely dice the remaining onion and carrot. Heat a frying pan over medium-low heat and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onion and carrot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, fennel and rosemary. Stir and cook for another minute, then turn off the heat. When the beans are very tender fish out the parsley, bay leaves and sage (if you used fresh) and discard. Place 1 cup of the beans in a blender along with whatever chunks of carrot and onion you can find. Blend to a paste and stir back into the beans along with the sautéed carrot and onions mixture. Add the fennel and rosemary and taste, adding salt if the beans need it (they probably do).
Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a grind of pepper, and possibly a dusting of Parmesan cheese on top.