Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
- Dried cannellini, or white beans (amounts given below)
- Fresh sage
- A clove of garlic
The cooking requires considerable care and should be exasperatingly slow. Indeed, back in the days when farmers would light their wood-fired ovens once a week to make bread, they'd slip the well-lidded bean pot into the oven after the bread was done, close up the oven again, and let the beans cook as the oven slowly cooled. After about four hours they were done.
In the absence of this sort of oven, set the pot on the stove and bring it to the barest simmer, with the occasional bubble rising up. The beans shouldn't move; part of the secret to maintaining this sort of steady temperature is a heavy-bottomed cast-iron pot, or a good terracotta one. In any case, season them with a couple of leaves of fresh sage, a clove of garlic, and salt them about half way through; they' re done when they're fork-tender creamy.
In Italy, finding beans cooked this way is no longer as easy as it once was some use pressure cookers, with disastrous results, and others attempt to hasten the process with bicarbonate or other softeners. Those who take these shortcuts generally end up with either squishy or crunchy beans.
In any case, once they're done scoop them from the pot with a slotted spoon and serve them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a few drops of lemon juice. Or with tuna, or with finely sliced oven and slivered herring. Or (plain) with boiled meats.
The procedure is slightly different for fresh beans: the cooking water should cover them by at least a palm's width, and you should add a ripe tomato, a couple of cloves of garlic, and several leaves of sage to the pot as well. Bring the beans rapidly to a boil and then reduce the heat to the barest simmer; figure an hour at the most, though tender beans will require less, and taste one occasionally to keep track of how they're cooking. When they're done scoop them from the pot with a slotted spoon and season them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a drop of vinegar or lemon juice.