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Robert Schonfeld

A Tuscan Rhythm

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About ten days ago, I received a flyer from the Rare Wine Company, also mentioned by the FG, offering new crop olive oil. For about $50 delivered, one receives a liter of rare liquid, so intensely of its place, so different as to be almost unrecognizable from the commercially available norm. This is less than the cost of a bottle of good champagne, and it lasts much longer. The irony is that oil of the same quality (without the rapturous discourse in the brochure) is available everywhere in Tuscany, often for free by exchange among neighbors. Just as you or I will pay $15 per pound for wild line caught striped bass in the Hamptons, the locals will pass them around for nothing.

Tuscans are often spoken of by their provincial neighbors, not without a little malice, as "bean eaters". The austere, frugal qualities of Tuscan peasant life are eloquently expressed in the extension of a few cents worth of ingredients over several days to produce delicious food sufficient to feed a family. I had the beans, I had the oil, and I had a picture-perfect loaf of pane pugliese (yes, yes, technically it should have been saltless Tuscan bread, but that stuff really sucks) which I had made just to see if I could do it correctly. We (changing pronouns because Mazal was a full partner in this venture) also had the requisite root vegetables, including a turban squash, which the people in the Greenmarket had always said was the sweetest and best for eating, but which we had used only for decoration in the past. The only ingredient we lacked was real black Tuscan kale, for which we substituted the local product. Sue me.

Day 1: Boiled white beans with sage, garlic and bay, drizzled with the oil. A couple of slices of the fesh bread on the side, lightly toasted, rubbed with garlic and also drizzled with the oil.

Day 2: The leftover beans, the cooking liquid, the vegetables, made in to a soup. Some of the soup pureed and stirred back in. A slice of toasted day old bread in the bottom of a heated bowl, ladle in the soup, drizzle generously with the oil.

Day 3: Ribollita. Half a dozen slices of two day old bread pressed into the leftover soup. Once these are soft, they are broken up with a spoon. The texture of baby food. More oil.

The flavors become more integrated each day. The oil livens the dish up each day. We enjoyed both delicious food as well as a feeling of connectedness with something familiar to us, yet distant. It was great eating and a great feeling.

PS: Mazal took the seeds from the turban squash, which are plump and meaty, and dried them, as she does all squash and melon seeds. This she gets from her Middle Eastern tradition, another part of the Mediterranean.


Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Robert, what a nice post. This cold week was good for Italian bean dishes. I made a version of a Pugliese bean dish -- dried fava beans cooked to a puree, seasoned with garlic-fennel seed-red pepper olive oil, served with sauteed broccoli rabe. I actually added half cannellini beans to the fava beans, and mashed the whole thing up by hand to get a rough texture. Ate with Sullivan St. pane pugliese. What flour do you use in the bread? Is it supposed to be a semolina dough, or just white flour?

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Robert, thanks for sharing.

Have you tried to prepare Fagioli al Fiasco? It's been forever in my to do list. As the cold season is upon us, i started to look longingly in the direction of my fireplace, thinking that maybe this year i'll finally get the Tuscan Grill. :wub:

fce8770c.jpg

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Yikes, sounds good, Robert and Toby. Toby: The big favas or the littler ones?

The sort of eating you describe, Robert, further developing a simple preparation over multiple meals, takes both a lot of thought and (in a way) not much thought. Not to mean carelessness--one must be able to look forward to the next day's treatment of something already enjoyed. Decent cooks whether from the New World or the Old Country do what it takes to assure a good dish, or else they are not, decent.

To be happy to eat this way is to reject, at least for a time, the relentless pursuit of culinary novelty, subconsciously, or unconsciously, or maybe 100% purposefully, I think. Not to say I, as a cook, don't wake from my liminal state with ideas for dishes to cook or places to go; happens all the time. A privilege of the cook, deciding WHAT to cook, and exploring, and recreating, and all that.

But extracting the pleasure and the truth from a pot of beans is also a privilege, and an important part of cooking, for me.


Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ● Twitter Instagram

 

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The big favas, unpeeled. I let them soak for about 4 hours in cold water and the skins came right off. Then cooked them with same sage leaves and garlic cloves and (surprisingly) a little salt; they got tender pretty quick.

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Day 1: Boiled white beans with sage, garlic and bay, drizzled with the oil. A couple of slices of the fesh bread on the side, lightly toasted, rubbed with garlic and also drizzled with the oil.

Day 2: The leftover beans, the cooking liquid, the vegetables, made in to a soup. Some of the soup pureed and stirred back in. A slice of toasted day old bread in the bottom of a heated bowl, ladle in the soup, drizzle generously with the oil.

Day 3: Ribollita. Half a dozen slices of two day old bread pressed into the leftover soup. Once these are soft, they are broken up with a spoon. The texture of baby food. More oil.

The flavors become more integrated each day. The oil livens the dish up each day. We enjoyed both delicious food as well as a feeling of connectedness with something familiar to us, yet distant. It was great eating and a great feeling.

I HATE beans - at least I think I do :wacko: but this description of three meals makes me want to find out for sure. It just sounds so GOOOOD. Too many foods, too many recipes, too little time. Better stick to my experiments with Indian food for now but I'll come back to beans. I just know I will. Thank you for a delicious post.


Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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