White beans are a staple of the Florentine diet. During the summer, they are sold fresh in their weathered yellowed pods, and though the shucking takes awhile, the beans cook in a fraction of the time of their dried counterparts. By the time the olive harvest rolls around in midautumn, dried beans have filled the pantry. Nothing does greater justice to the sharp, fruity flavor of freshly pressed olive oil than a slice of toasted bread smothered with warm beans and generously doused with the pungent, new oil.
Recipe courtesy of Williams-Sonoma. Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, “Florence”, by Lori de Mori (Oxmoor House, 2004).
Serve with a dry, chilled “vino rosato” (rosé).
- 2 cups dried cannellini beans
- 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 fresh sage sprig
- 6 to 8 peppercorns
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 4 slices coarse country bread, each about 3/4 inch thick
- 1 Pick over the beans, discarding any misshapen beans and grit. Rinse well, place in a large bowl and add cold water to cover generously. Let soak overnight.
- 2 Drain the beans, rinse well and place them in a heavy soup pot. Add 8 cups water, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic, sage and peppercorns. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat so that the water simmers very gently and cook until the skins of the beans are tender and the interiors are soft, about 2 hours. Season with salt three-fourths of the way through the cooking time. Remove the beans from the heat and let them cool slightly in their cooking water.
- 3 Preheat an oven to 375°F.
- 4 Arrange the bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until golden, 3 to 5 minutes.
- 5 Divide the toasts among individual plates. Ladle a generous amount of beans and a bit of the cooking water on each toast. Drizzle abundantly with some of the remaining olive oil, season with salt and pepper and serve.
- 6 Serves 4.