Zuppa di fagioli alla Toscana is a delicious, creamy soup to nourish and keep you warm in winter. I used to keep myself cosy with it as a penniless, garlic-loving undergraduate at York University; I’d make myself a batch to last me for two or three days. This is real ‘slow food’ as advocated by the global grass roots movement ‘Slow Food’, that links thousands of members around the world who love flavoursome food and are committed to the community and the environment.
This recipe comes from Giovanna, a highly creative and generous cook and ex-student of ours who invited us out to Tuscany, where we sampled her parents’ memorable bottled tomatoes, olive oil, red and white wine, vin santo and limoncello. Each wine bottle was opened with anticipation and everyone tasted a bit to assess its salient merits – it made the uniformity of commercial wine suddenly seem rather boring. The Carabinieri kept a friendly eye on the locals’ ventures into distilling but, as long as they were given some to sample, no one bothered further.
Remember not to add any salt to your soup until the beans are soft or their skins will not cook.
Serves 4 (the grain-free vegetarian p. 25)
250 dried cannellini beans
4 sage leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 sprig of rosemary
1 tomato, chopped
Salt and pepper
Soak the beans overnight in plenty of water. Drain and rinse. Cover the beans with fresh water, add the sage leaves and 1 tablespoon of olive oil and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer until tender, 45 minutes to 1½ hours, depending on the freshness of the beans.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a saucepan and gently fry the garlic until golden with a sprig of rosemary, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato and fry until cooked, about 5 minutes.
Transfer half the beans to a medium-sized bowl with some of the bean stock. Blend with a hand-held blender, then return to the pan. Heat the soup, add the tomato. Season. Serve sprinkled with the remaining oil.