Food is a little like music: it attaches itself to people and places and moments, usually poignant ones, so you wind up eating to remember, and your memories season the food. That’s why we like our own cooking and singing more than other people do.
For me, white beans are attached to the year I spent wandering the streets of Barcelona in my early twenties, before mortgages and itemized deductions, before everything but the kind of hunger you don’t want to satisfy. I ate white beans in smokey bars, where hams hung over the espresso machine, and women tending terra cotta crocks called you mi amor. You mashed the beans against the roof of your mouth with your tongue, and the best ones burst like olives filled with humus, which you washed down with the oil in the bottom of the bowl. I eat them now because they taste like everything I hoped to do.
This dish comes from someone else who cooks in stories, Michelle Hooton, master of the award-winning food blog bitebymichelle. Hooton used to run an Italian grocery, and she made periodic eating/buying trips to Italy. Here’s a story from one of them:
“Every day we drove to a different Etruscan town where we would spend the morning roaming through the cobblestone streets. We would book a late sitting for lunch and spend a couple of hours enjoying the local cuisine. One of our most memorable noon time meals was in Cortona at the superb trattoria La Grotta… We were seated next to a table of four workmen. Trying not to be conspicuous, we ordered everything that they had on their table… They noticed what we had done and thought that it was wonderful. One dish that we had not seen on their table was the fagioli cannellini al forno. The workmen were adamant that we try this beloved local dish – so we did! Sheer bliss…”
There is no exact recipe for cooking dried beans. It depends on freshness and quality.
Yellow Eyed Beans – Tuscan Style
250g dried yellow eyed beans, soaked overnight in cold water
1 plum tomato
3-4 garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled
A bunch of fresh sage
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
5-6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Place the beans in a large bean crock and cover them with water. Leave to soak overnight, then, when ready to cook the beans, drain and rinse them.
Place the beans in a large, thick-bottomed pan and add enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Add the tomato, garlic and sage and bring to a boil, skimming off any scum from the surface. Lower the heat to a simmer and continue cooking uncovered until the beans are tender, adding more water when needed to keep the beans covered. The cooking time will vary depending on the freshness of the beans; it can take from 45 minutes to 1½ hours.
When the beans are ready, they should be tender and the skins soft. Season with salt and pepper.”