Tuscan Mountain Supper

Tuscan Mountain Supper

From The Italian Country Table: Home Cooking from Italy's Farmhouse Kitchens by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (Scribner, 1999). © 1999 by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. All rights reserved.

Serves 4; doubles easily

Outside, a wild October night of rain and wind; inside, a table before the fire and this Tuscan Mountain Supper—hot, plump beans flecked with tomato and herbs, and their perfect foil, a cool salad of tart escarole and red onion. I took a little of each on my fork and tasted pure heaven. This meal's secret lies in extremes—the salad must be prickly and tart, the beans luscious and slow-cooked in their tomato sauce to meld all their seasonings. These are Tuscany's famous Beans in the Style of Wild Birds, as they served at the old coaching inn Il Casone, practically at the top of the Apennine Mountains in Lucca province.

1 medium onion
1/4 tightly packed cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
4 large fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large cloves garlic, minced
4 canned whole tomatoes, with 1/4 cup of their liquid
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 to 2 cups water
Salad of Tart Greens and Red Onion (recipe follows)

1. Finely chop together the onion, parsley, and sage leaves. Heat the oil in a 10- to 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion mixture until golden, sprinkling with salt and pepper. Stir in the garlic, cooking another minute. Blend in the tomatoes, their liquid, and the tomato paste. Sauté 10 minutes to deepen the flavors.

2. Gently fold in the cooked beans and sauté a few minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the water, taste for seasoning, and bring to a slow simmer. Cover and cook over medium-low heat 30 minutes, checking for burning and adding a little more liquid if needed. The beans should absorb the other flavors, but not be falling apart. Serve hot with the salad. The beans and salad are eaten together.

Salad of Tart Greens and Red Onion

From The Italian Country Table: Home Cooking from Italy's Farmhouse Kitchens by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (Scribner, 1999). © 1999 by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. All rights reserved.

Serves 4

This is the kind of salad I was raised on and later discovered was eaten on just about every farm I visited. Every night we had a big bowl of mixed greens—tart and mild, changing with what my mother found in the market. On farms I stayed at in Italy the greens came from the garden, or were foraged from the fields. Dressing the salad was a ritual always done at the table. First, my mother sprinkled it with some dried basil, salt and pepper. She tossed the greens with only enough olive oil to give them a little gleam. She sprinkled a little vinegar in and tossed again. Then she always tasted a leaf, thought for a moment and added a little more salt, or oil or vinegar. Another taste, and finally she let us take the salad.

1 medium red onion, cut into thin rings
Ice water
Pale green inner leaves from 1 large head curly endive, frisée, or other tangy greens
Pale inner leaves from 1 large head escarole or 1 small head oak leaf lettuce or green radicchio
1 small head red leaf or Bibb lettuce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
2 to 3 tablespoons robust, peppery extra-virgin olive oil
About 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1. Combine the onion and ice water to cover in a bowl and refrigerate 30 minutes.

2. Wash and thoroughly dry the greens. Tear into bite-sized pieces. Turn into a big salad bowl.

3. Just before serving, drain the onions and pat dry. Sprinkle the greens with salt and pepper, the basil, and the drained onions. Don't dress the salad until you're ready to serve it.

4. At the table, toss with enough oil to barely coat the greens, about 2 tablespoons. Toss with vinegar to taste, starting with 2 tablespoons. Taste for balance, making sure the vinegar is assertive but not harsh. Serve the salad immediately.

LYNNE'S TIPS

If you have time to spare, substitute cooked fresh cranberry beans or cooked dried American organic pinto beans for canned beans. Use 2 cups of the bean cooking liquid instead of water.

When buying dried beans look for plump, unbroken ones with no signs of withering. I prefer organic dried beans for ecological reasons and their often-superior flavor. Store dried beans in a tightly sealed container in a cool dark place for up to one year.

Two good online sources for a wide variety of dried beans are www.indianharvest.com and www.kalustyan.com.

Use good quality tomatoes canned in tomato juice by Muir Glen, Hunt's, or Red Gold. Tomatoes packed in tomato puree often have a metallic, "off" taste. The one exception is Red Pack brand's whole tomatoes "in tomato puree," which are excellent.