The main lessons I learnt on my trip last month to Italy with Cirio were that less is more, and cook quality ingredients simply. Buying the cheapest ingredients can indeed be a false economy, and it is a matter of knowing what to spend on and what to save on.
The classic Tuscan dish of Fagioli all’uccelletto – beans in tomato sauce, is a prime example of a frugal, but delicious dish – by buying a premium tomato such as Cirio frugal beans are made into something really rather special, and a frugal meal becomes a treat rather than a penance.
We ate these beans in Osteria dal 1931 in Trastevere, Rome. I am sure that my version is not that authentic, but certainly carries the spirit and sentiment of the original.
A few notes on cooking beans – I far prefer to cook my beans from dried, they taste far superior, packets of dried beans are cheaper and easier to transport home from the supermarket than tins. I soak overnight and then gently simmer the beans, either on the hob or in the slow cooker. I find that with a fast boil that the beans can go from hard to mush very fast, or the inside cooks and expands whist the skin is still tight causing the beans to split. When soaking beans I place the beans in a bowl, add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, cover with boiling water and soak overnight. Before cooking drain, rinse and cook in fresh water. You can, if you run out of time, freeze the soaked beans and finish cooking them another time. With an overnight soak and the bicarb treatment I find that all dried beans and pulses cook really fast (about 20 minutes for chickpeas – but timings will vary according to how old the beans are).
I really recommend making a big batch of this and freezing some. As with all these type of dishes it is immeasurably better when left to get cold and then reheated.
- 200 g dried beans – I used pinto a dried white bean is more Tuscan and would work just as well
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tbs good olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic – finely chopped
- A few fresh sage leaves or a pinch of dried herbs
- 540 g bottle Cirio passata
- 70 g pot Cirio tomato puree
The night before you make the dish place the beans and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set to one side and allow to soak overnight.
Drain the beans and rinse well. Put into a large saucepan, cover with boiling water and let them simmer until three quarters done – so the outside of the bean is soft, but the centre is still chalky, this will take between 20 – 40 minutes depending on the type and size of bean. Drain and rinse, reserving a cup of the cooking water.
Whilst the beans are cooking gently heat the garlic and herbs in the olive oil, in a large frying pan, you want them to infuse rather than cook.
Add the passata (rinse the bottle out with a splash of the bean soaking water), puree to the pan and the beans, stir, season with salt and pepper and allow to cook on the lowest heat for about an hour until the beans are tender, add some of the bean cooking water during this time if needed.
Serve with a sprinkle of fresh herbs and a liberal sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper.
I am so impressed with the Cirio passata, thick, silky smooth and richly flavoured it is delicious straight from the bottle, and would make a very good base for a bloody Mary too. It comes in plastic bottles, so if you only use half a bottle simply put the lid back on and pop into the freezer until you next need some.
Fuss Free Flavours was commissioned by Cirio to travel to Italy on a journey to discover the #TrueItalian food. All opinions are my own.