eans were introduced into Italy after the discovery of America. Christopher Columbus brought them back to Spain. Spain sent a gift of the new world treasures to the Pope in Rome. Being a Medici, he sent them to his relatives in Florence. Several of the new world foods (potatoes and tomatoes) were planted in the Boboli Gardens as ornamental plants.
Florentines are known in Italy as bean eaters. Beans are an important part of their diet, forming a perfect protein with spelt or farro, an ancient wheat grain used by the Egyptians and Romans. Farro was the base of the "puls", the foundation of the Roman diet. Salt and farro were offered up to the goddess Demetra to insure a good harvest during the ides of March.
Beans form the base of quite a few well-known dishes--Tonno e fagioli (tuna and bean salad), Minestrone (vegetable soup), Fagoli all'uccelleto (beans in tomato and sage sauce), Zuppa di gran Farro (bean and spelt soup), Fettunta Bianca (toasted garlic bread with beans, new oil and pepper) and Zuppa Lombarda (beans and their broth served with garlic toast).
I recommend cannellini or Great Northern beans for this recipe. For best results, soak the beans overnight in water so they cook faster. If you prefer, they can be slow cooked (about 3 hours) in a crockpot which simulates the Tuscan slow cooking in clay pots.
Here's the recipe!
12 ounces dried white beans
2 quarts water
2 garlic cloves
1 sage branch
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
Place beans and cold water in a heavy-bottomed bean pot. Add sage, olive oil and whole peeled garlic cloves. Cover and cook slowly. Do not let the water boil. Cooking time, anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, will depend on the freshness of the beans. Add salt in the last 10 minutes of cooking time to prevent the beans from getting tough. Tasting is the only way to know that the dish is done.The dish can also be cooked in the oven in a casserole. Serve the beans drained, drizzled with olive oil and a twist of fresh black pepper.
Zuppa Lombarda uses the beans and the broth served in a soup bowl on top of a slice of fettunta without oil. Drizzle a "C" of olive oil and a twist of fresh black pepper on top. (Fettunta is Tuscan garlic bread. A thick slice of Tuscan style bread is toasted and then lightly rubbed with a clove of garlic. The best extra virgin olive oil is poured over the bread. Then it's seasoned with a little salt.)