Pa­tience is a virtue

Ital­ians have a way with beans that puts them at the heart of ev­ery­day food, of­ten in a form that’s in­ci­den­tally ve­gan. Here bor­lotti reach a roast chest­nut-like soft­ness along­side potato, tomato and herbs, in­spired by Pa­tience Gray

The Guardian - Cook - - A Kitchen In Rome - Rachel Roddy

Fri­day nights at Pizze­ria Remo run like bois­ter­ous clock­work. Whether you’ve been go­ing there all your life, or it is your first visit, the rou­tine is al­ways the same. You put your name and num­ber on a list, then stand in line un­til you’re called, the dis­or­derly queue spilling from the pave­ment into the street. If all your group has ar­rived, you bump your way through the nar­row pizze­ria – past the wood oven and the three piz­zaioli, with ban­danas and floury hands, spin­ning and pad­dling – to a ta­ble that seems far too small, but you all fit in any­way. Once you have all got your legs un­der the ta­ble, you im­me­di­ately have to dis­lodge them so the waiter can cover the ta­ble with a pa­per cloth, which you help tame as he dumps on to it a pile of small plates and cut­lery, a slip of pa­per – the menu – and a blue biro with which to mark up your or­der.

We mark up the same things ev­ery week: a marinara and a capric­ciosa, a small red pizza, wa­ter and a litre of house red. But first, fried things on squares of white pa­per, a bat­tered and fried cour­gette flower (not as good as they used to be). And, al­ways, a plate of white beans.

I love how Ital­ian bean dishes could in­clude meat and dairy, but so of­ten don’t – be­com­ing, like so much good south­ern Ital­ian food is, in­ci­den­tally ve­gan.

At Remo, they are just small white beans – among them a piece of car­rot and a ribbed inch of cel­ery, around them some cloudy broth and a halo of olive oil – but they are de­li­cious, at just the right point be­tween floury and creamy: Ro­mans say so’ come burro, “like but­ter”. They come with two great cush­iony slices of bread with which to sop up the broth. “I think they cook these beans in the pizza oven,” I tell my friend, an­other Rachel. The waiter, his al­le­giance to Lazio em­bla­zoned on both his T-shirt and his fore­arm, comes over to get plates. “You cook these in the wood oven?” I ask. He looks blank. I try again. “You cook the beans in the pizza oven?” At this he makes a sound, the Ro­man equiv­a­lent of “nah”, and tells me we are not in Tus­cany. “We soak them, chuck them in a big pan with car­rot and cel­ery and cook them un­til they are soft like this,” squeez­ing his fin­gers. “Buoni, eh?”

Can­nellini beans, bor­lotti beans, kid­ney, hari­cot, black-eyed beans ... I am not sure what we would do with­out them. They are as much the back­bone of what we eat as bread, pasta and pota­toes are. Ital­ians have a way with beans that puts them firmly at the heart of ev­ery­day food, with­out the shack­les of be­ing good for you or good for your pocket – though they are both.

Var­i­ous va­ri­eties of beans work, but mot­tled bor­lotti are par­tic­u­larly good for cook­ing into an al­most roasted-chest­nut-like soft­ness for this Pa­tience Gray-in­spired stew of beans, potato, tomato and herbs. It lends it­self to vari­a­tion though, so try it with dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of bean, sea­sonal veg­eta­bles and herbs.

5 Pa­tience Gray’s bean stew

For to­day’s recipe, the beans do need soak­ing (I leave my­self a Post-It re­minder near the ket­tle).

Serves 4–6

500g dried bor­lotti beans, soaked overnight

500g plum toma­toes, fresh or tinned 6-8 tbsp olive oil, plus a lit­tle ex­tra for driz­zling

A large onion, ideally white, peeled and sliced

1 gar­lic clove

Salt

A sprig of pars­ley

A hand­ful of cel­ery leaves

A sprig of thyme

500g potato, diced

Chopped pars­ley or red chilli, to serve

1 Cover the beans with fresh wa­ter, bring to the boil for 5 min­utes, then drain and rinse. If you are us­ing fresh toma­toes, peel them by plung­ing in boil­ing wa­ter for a minute, then cold wa­ter, at which point the skins should peel away. For tinned, drain the juice. Chop the toma­toes roughly.

2 In a large, heavy-based pan over a low heat, fry the onion, gar­lic and a pinch of salt in the oil un­til soft and fra­grant. Add the chopped toma­toes, crush­ing them against the side of the pan, then sim­mer for 2 min­utes. Roughly chop the pars­ley and cel­ery leaves, then add to the pan along with the thyme and al­low to bub­ble for a minute more. Add the diced potato, beans and an­other small pinch of salt, stir then sim­mer for

a minute more, cover with hot wa­ter and cook gently for 90 min­utes or un­til the beans and potato are soft. The dish should be soupy, so if at any point the pan looks dry, add more wa­ter

3 To serve, sprin­kle with chopped pars­ley, olive oil, or some chopped red chilli, if you like.

6 Braised ar­ti­choke and but­ter beans

To serve four: Dice 1 onion, 1 car­rot, 1 small leek and 1 stick cel­ery, then gently fry with a pinch of red chilli flakes in 6 tbsp olive oil over a low flame un­til soft and fra­grant. Mean­while, trim and quar­ter 3 globe ar­ti­chokes, drop­ping the pieces into a bowl of juice of ½ lemon mixed with wa­ter as you go. Once ready, add the ar­ti­choke pieces to the pan along with 1 potato, peeled and diced and a pinch of salt. Stir so each piece glis­tens with oil, add 250ml white wine then re­duce to a sim­mer, cover and leave to braise for 15 min­utes, or un­til the veg­eta­bles are ten­der,stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally. Stir in 2 drained tin­fuls of beans. Cook un­cov­ered for 5 min­utes, stir­ring, un­til soft and brothy. Sea­son, set aside then gently re­heat to serve with bread.

7 Pasta and chick­pea soup

To serve four: Gently fry 1 onion and 1 stick cel­ery – both finely diced – in 6 tbsp olive oil un­til soft and fra­grant. Add 1 small, diced potato and stir un­til each chunk glis­tens. Add 1 sprig fresh rose­mary, 1 tsp tomato puree and a small pinch of chilli flakes, stir and cook for a minute. Add 2 tin­fuls of chick­peas, drained and rinsed, along with 1.2 lites of wa­ter and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then re­duce to a gen­tle sim­mer for 20 min­utes. When cooked, de­cant half the soup from the pan, blitz, then re­turn it to the pan. Sea­son to taste, then bring to a steady boil. Add 120g small dried pasta. Stir­ring pretty at­ten­tively, cook un­til ten­der, adding wa­ter if nec­es­sary. Sea­son and top with olive oil to serve.

8 White beans and wilted greens

To serve four: Fry 2 chopped gar­lic cloves, 1 chopped onion, 1 diced cel­ery stalk and a chopped dried chilli over a low heat for 8 min­utes, or un­til soft and fra­grant. Raise the heat and add 700g chopped greens (such as swiss chard, spinach, dan­de­lion greens) a hand­ful at a time, adding the next with a tiny pinch of salt when the pre­vi­ous one has wilted a lit­tle. Cover and cook for 5 min­utes, or un­til the greens are soft. Re­move the lid, cook for an­other 2 min­utes, add 250g of cooked can­nellini beans and a cup of their cook­ing broth, stir and cook un­cov­ered for about 5 min­utes. Serve with gar­lic-rubbed toast, grilled sausages or white rice.

I am not sure what we would do with­out beans. They are as much the back­bone of what we eat as bread, pasta and pota­toes

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