tuscan white beans (fagioli all’olio)


tuscan white beans

When we were in Italy far and and away the most stressful thing of all was figuring out where to eat.  We would walk the sidewalks teeming with restaurants, everything smelling so good, unable to choose.  I knew in my head how many meals we had in each place, and the last thing I wanted to do was waste one of those meals with something “less than.”  Unfortunately this still happened.  There were still times when we meandered through the streets, perusing menus and trying to find free WiFi so we could look up recommendations.  Some of the random places we stumbled into were misses; some of them resulted in my favorite dishes of the trip.

dried cannellini beans

quick soaked cannellini beans

After our restaurant induced stress in Rome though, we were so thankful to land in Florence where we stayed in a guest room in the apartment of a lovely Florentine couple and got real restaurant recommendations from real Italians.  And the first place they recommended was Le Mossacce, right around the corner from our apartment.  It was as authentic as I could have hoped for (even with the handful of tables with tourists).

cooking cannellini beans

While Rome is full of pasta and pizza, I almost loved the food of Florence more (finally, some good meat!).  And the biggest surprise to me was how much I loved the white beans, served simply on a plate without garnish or extravagance.  I ordered them as my side dish because they looked the least threatening, and I loved them so much that I ordered them a second time when we went back.  And a few days later, when we stopped by a grocery store in Milan on our way out of the country looking for snacks for the airplane (turns out, by the way, you don’t really need snacks when you fly Swiss Air….they gave us so much food) I spotted a pack of dried cannellini beans on the shelf by the check out, and I knew they needed to come home with me.

tuscan white beans (fagioli all'olio)

Tuscan White Beans
adapted from saveur.com
quick soaking from Anne Burrell

This recipe uses dried cannellini beans, but I’m sure that canned beans will work fine, too.  They will just not need to cook nearly as long and they may not have as much flavor.  In general this is a very low key dish; there’s not much to it, so a drizzle of good olive oil at the end is important for flavor.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Wait Time: 2 hours

Serves 4

1/2 lb. dried cannellini beans (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
2 fresh sage leaves
6 cups water
Kosher salt
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1. You can soak your beans overnight (or at least 4 hours) or you can do the quick soak method.  Place the beans in a pot and cover with 2 inches of water.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Then turn the heat off and let the beans cool while soaking in the water (about 1-2 hours).  After they have cooled (their skins will have started to look all wrinkly) drain them and return them to the pot.
2. Add the garlic, sage, and 6 cups of water.  Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.  Cover the pot and let simmer for 1 to 2 hours, until the beans are done (adding more water if needed).  To test to see if the beans are done, taste five of them.  If all five are tender, they are done.  If one of them isn’t done, continue to cook them until five beans tasted at the same time are all done.
3. When the beans are almost done, add a good pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper and let cook for 5 to 10 more minutes.
4. Drain the beans and serve drizzled with good extra virgin olive oil.

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4 Replies to “tuscan white beans (fagioli all’olio)”

  1. I can so relate to that vacation-restaurant panic and how wearying the whole thing can get. I’m not surprised that a simple dish like this appealed, it’s such a great accompaniment to so many things.

  2. How lovely. I went to Italy when I was in high school…and I wish I would have sampled more of the cuisine. These white beans look delicious. I would love to try this recipe at home!

  3. I love cooking with dried beans. These sound amazing – particularly if you have some good evoo. I love when you can take something so simple and it tastes so wonderful. Fun to hear about your trip. I would probably be paralyzed over the choices of restaurants there.

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