Inspired Eats: 30-Minute Tuscan White Bean Stew (Recipe Below)
When the snow comes to London, it is wet and thick white as it piles up on the sidewalk. While it is falling, there is an intense pleasure that comes from standing out on Old Street, watching the taxis cut black stripes through the fresh flakes knowing that tomorrow it will all be a sheet of gray ice and the taxis will be slipping and sliding or not daring to drive at all.
The trick of London snow is that the beauty of it makes it easy to ignore the cold and walk and walk and stare and take in the twinkling lights on the lamp posts and the warm glow from the pubs with the frost creeping at the window corners and the silence that comes from those first moments when the falling snow quiets the city.
When the cold finally hits and I realize my nose is frozen and my toes are numb, I head back to the corner flat, down the three stairs, stomping off the wet from my boots and I’m hungry and I know that I will eat something hot and hearty. The first thing that comes to mind is always a pot of Tuscan beans, thick with cooked olive oil and fragrant from whole garlic cloves and wide leaves of sage.
I learned about Tuscan beans from a proud man in a rust coloured apron who worked over a cooking fire in a brick restaurant in the hill town of Pienza outside of Siena. I had arrived on a Moped, late in October, and the wind and the light rain had chilled me right through and made my fingers pale with cold.
The man showed me to the fire and wiped his big hands clean and showed me how to take the dry white beans and put them in a glass flask with a wine glass full of olive oil and water and how to push in the garlic cloves and the sage and then cotton to stopper the flask but still let steam out. He showed me how to bury the bottom of the glass flask into the warm coals at the far corner of the firebox.
“Tomorrow” he said carefully, and then he motioned eating with his hand cupped like a soup spoon, watching me to make sure I understood. The man shuffled a small rake through the other side of the coals and dragged out a blackened glass flask that certainly held yesterday’s beans. The flask bubbled with cloudy olive oil and the sage was wilted a dark green and the beans looked tender and pearly. He had me sit and he brought me a heavy clay cup of inky black wine and he served me a wooden bowl full of the hot beans; creamy and steaming and he poured oil over them.
As I spooned up the beans, the sage fragrance swirling around my head, and the soft garlic cloves warming me, the big man just stared at me, or rather through me, lost in thought. When he would catch me watching him, he would smile bashfully and poke at the fire as if it needed his tending.
The warmth of the hearty dish, and the quiet warmth of the big man made it easy to get back on the moped, and push on along the curving road back towards Siena.
30-Minute Tuscan White Bean Stew
50ml Tuscan olive oil (should be peppery and grassy)
Handful of fresh sage leaves
5 whole cloves peeled garlic
400g Tin of Cannellini beans drained and rinsed (Beans are one of the few foods whose tinned iteration is nearly as satisfying as the soaked, drained version)
If you haven’t got a heavy glass flask and a firebox full of glowing embers, you can make this dish stovetop in about 30 minutes.
In a heavy saucepan, Heat olive oil, garlic cloves and sage leaves over medium heat, until wilted and soft, but not coloured (about 5 minutes). Add beans and water and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens and bubbles and oil emulsifies (about 25 minutes). Season and serve with a wooden cup of cheap, room temperature Sangiovese.