As I think I’ve told you in the past, much of my youth was spent in Italy. I had good friends in Liguria, Tuscany and Rome. I ended up living in Milano for a spell and would spend the weekends visiting, eating, drinking and in general, living the Good Life.
I would love to go back and tell my younger self to lay off the cigarettes but otherwise, my 20s were enchanted for the most part. Italy will always be a key part of what made me who I am. I still am smitten.
Even though I’m obsessed with Mexican cuisine, it doesn’t mean that all those years loving Italy were for nothing. I still cook under the influence of Bell’Italia and this sampler contains the key ingredients for Italian bean cuisine.
A one-pound bag each of our four favorite beans for cooking a la Italiana. Minestrone soups, pasta e fagioli or just a bowl of amore is in your future.
Marcella beans are grown in California from ItalianSorana seedstock. Sorana is a cannellini bean with incredibly thin skin and when cooked properly, an indulgent creamy texture. You can use them in your kitchen as you would any small white, European-style bean, but with an ingredient like this, simple is often better. Good crusty bread with some Marcella beans smashed on top, drizzled with your very best extra virgin olive oil and maybe a dusting of freshly cracked pepper is the new standard for “fast food.”
Cranberry (Borlotti) Beans:
Cranberry is an odd name for a lovely, versatile bean. Thought to be originally from Colombia and then bred in Italy, Cranberry beans are soft and dense with a velvety, rich texture. The thin skins help produce a rich bean broth, making it the natural friend of pasta e fagioli (pasta fazool) as the liquid coats each noodle with its luxurious sauce.
Royal Corona Beans:
A new hand-harvested crop straight from Europe into your pantry. Giant, fat, white runner beans that are creamier and more luxurious than Greek and Spanish gigandes and a little denser than traditional Italian coronas. Royal Corona beans can replace any white bean but be prepared to be astounded by how big they are when cooked. Fully cooked, they can be a little starchy but you can also keep cooking until they reach the creamy point.
Garbanzo (Ceci) Beans:
Garbanzos aren’t a true “new world” bean, but we love them so much and the imported crops tend to be so old and dusty that we make this one of our California crops.
Optional: Napa Cakes Panforte
A traditional Italian classic. Napa Cakes Panforte combines almonds, hazelnuts, dried raisins, B&R Farms Blenheim apricots and tart cranberries with a bit of oat and almond flours, Salute Santé grapeseed flour and oil, honey, cocoa, cane sugar, and spices, then bake them slowly into moist, flavorful delectable cakes. Great for a cheese plate or with vin santo after dinner.
P.s. Yes, the fellow in all the photos is me. I suffer from what I call Carrie Fisher Syndrome. When asked continually about her weight gain and aging, she said something like, “Yes, I was hot in my 20s. Lots of people were. Get over it!” In the nicest way, of course.