- Adam Rapport
photo: Adam Rapoport
Last summer I lucked out and spent a week in Tuscany with Ruthie Rogers, chef-owner of London's River Cafe. Rogers is one of those chefs who's really more of a cook—she makes simple Italian food incredibly well. When she prepares something like a big crock of beans—which she set out for pretty much every meal we ate at her villa—you want to know how they can possibly be so damn tasty, what the hell did she put in them, and why haven't I been eating these my entire life?
Getting that information from her proved a bit difficult. I kept pestering Rogers to show me her technique, but by the time I'd had my espresso and a swim (I was on vacation, after all) she'd already simmered and seasoned the day's allotment of fresh borlotti beans. Fragrant, garlicky and soupy, they accompanied everything from whole-roasted baby lamb to homemade pizza from the wood-fired brick oven. I couldn't stop eating them.
When I got back to New York, I finally got the recipe from Ruthie and then got some pointed advice on the subject from her bean-loving son Roo and his wife Bernie:
Know when to salt 'em. If you're cooking your beans in the oven, as prescribed below, take them out about ten minutes before they're done and salt them liberally, using the same amount of salt you would for pasta water. We're talking a couple tablespoons—otherwise, your beans will end up bland.
Don't rush it. Beans need time for their flavors to marry. This might mean a few hours on the counter before dinner, or if you're hardcore like Roo, it means a couple of days. It's the same school of thought that argues that a slow-cooked dish like braised short ribs are always better the day after.
When in doubt, add olive oil. Before you cook them, and then again right before you serve them.
And never hesitate to serve them to guests. They're not fancy, but they are delicious. And that's all anyone really cares about.
10 ounces dried borlotti or cannelloni beans
1 tomato, cut in half
1 head of garlic, cut in half
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh sage or thyme
1. Soak the beans for 24 hours in a large bowl of cold water. Drain and rinse.
2. Pour beans in a large baking dish and cover with cold water by about a half inch.
3. Add garlic and tomato. If you can't find good ripe tomatoes, use a couple of canned Italian tomatoes, like I did in the photo.
4. Add a few gluts of olive oil, about 6 tablespoons and a few sage leaves or a couple sprigs of thyme.
5. Cover with aluminum foil and with a knife make a small slit on the top for the steam to escape.
6. Place in a 400 degree oven. Total cooking time should be between 45 and 60 minutes, depending on how old the beans are.
7. About 10 minutes before they're done, while they're still al dente, remove them from the oven and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of salt. Stir thoroughly with a large spoon, cover and place back in the oven for another 10 minutes.
8. Remove and let cool on the counter for at least a couple hours. When ready to serve, either pour off the water or use a slotted spoon to transfer the beans to a serving bowl. Taste for seasoning and dress with some good extra virgin olive oil. Serve at room temperature as a side dish with roasted meat or fish or as part of an antipasti to start.
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