During this pandemic, we have watched television more than ever: movies, documentaries, opera from the Met, and, perhaps not surprisingly, cooking shows. Indeed, ever since we “cut the cable” and turned to streaming, I’m amazed at just how many television chefs there are. And although we’ve discovered a few new channels like Tastemade and Bon Appetit, none has in my opinion provided higher quality than good old PBS.
Never before have I’ve been flooded with so many requests from friends and family to make a recipe that they saw in The New York Times. Heck, even The Times itself e-mailed me several times about the same dish. Although, I had already come across this cannellini bean and pasta recipe on my own when it first appeared, I didn’t find it all that exciting. I must admit, however, that upon reading the recipe’s backstory and why its developer chose to use a classic French beurre blanc, I became more interested.
It’s been pretty wintry here in San Diego these past few weeks. Jeans have taken the place of shorts, and sweatshirts, the place of polos. The chilly temps have similarly impacted our menus, with hardier dishes taking precedence over lighter fare. A case in point was last night’s entree, punti e fagioli, or spare ribs with beans: thick, center-cut country-style pork ribs simmered slowly in tomato sauce with cannellini beans. The perfect comfort food for a winter night.
The other day, my “Daily Briefing” email from The New York Times led me to a recipe for a Cheesy White Bean Tomato Bake. The photo accompanying the recipe looked so good that I simply had to make the dish that night.
When I started to cook, however, I began to find elements of the recipe that I needed or wanted to change. First off, because my pantry only had one can of cannellini beans, I had to substitute a can of chickpeas for the second can called for by the recipe. I believe this forced change was fortuitous since the chickpeas added another layer of flavor to the dish.
Next, I thought that cooking the garlic in heated oil for only one minute over medium-high heat wouldn’t yield the depth of flavor as would adding the garlic to unheated oil and slowly simmering it over low heat for five of six minutes. I similarly extended the time for “frying” the tomato paste from 30 seconds to a minute and a half, but made sure that the tomato paste didn’t burn by stirring it.
In addition, to add a little heat, I added a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to simmer with the garlic and oil.
In the recipe’s second step, I opted for the longer cooking time in the oven, a full ten minutes, at which point the mozzarella had started to melt. And as the recipe had anticipated, the cheese still was not as toasted as depicted in the recipe’s photo, so as suggested, I ran the skillet under the broiler for at least 2 minutes.
Although the final dish was very good, a perfect comfort food, I believe the recipe still needs some tweaking. Perhaps rendering some pancetta at the beginning or using a smoked mozzarella would do the trick. I’ll let you know how it turns out the next time around.
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 fat garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 generous tablespoons double concentrated Italian tomato paste
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ cup boiling water
Kosher salt and black pepper
⅓ pound mozzarella, coarsely grated (about 1 1/3 cups)
Heat the oven to 475 degrees.
1) In a 10-inch ovenproof skillet, simmer the olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes over low heat, until the garlic turns slightly golden, about 5 or 6 minutes.\
2) Raise the heat to medium low and stir in the tomato paste (be careful of splattering) and fry for 1 ½ minutes, reducing the heat as needed to prevent the garlic from burning.
3) Add the beans, water and generous pinches of salt and pepper and stir to combine.
4) Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top, then bake until the cheese has melted and browned in spots, approximately 10 minutes.
5) If the top is not as toasted as you’d like, run the skillet under the broiler for a 1 to 2 minutes. Watch closely to avoid burning.
Serve at once with crusty bread.
Wine Pairing: Zinfandel, Primativo
Earlier this month, I posted a Tuscan recipe from the Food Network for sausages and cannellini all’uccelletta that has always been one of our favorite weeknight dishes. However, I recently came across a variation on this recipe in Giuliano Hazan’s Every Night Italian.
The ingredients are almost identical, except for fresh sage leaves replacing fresh bay; however, in preparing this dish, Hazan skips the browning of the sausages and opts to braise them slowly along with the beans and tomatoes. (This also makes for a less messy stove top.)
This small variation makes for a big difference in taste. I found that both the sauce and the beans take on more flavor from the sausage and the sausages themselves are moister and richer in texture.
Of course, the southern Italian in me added just a pinch of Calabrian red-pepper flakes to spice things up a bit.
Beans and Sausage (Salsicce e Fagioli) adapted from Giuliano Hazan’s Every Night Italian.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
3 large garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
1 can (15 oz) cannellini beans drained and rinsed
1 can (16 ounce) crushed Italian tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch dried red-pepper flakes
1 pound sweet Italian pork sausages (without fennel seeds)
Put the olive oil and garlic in a heavy bottomed sauté pan large enough to hold the sausages in a single layer. Place it over medium-high heat and sauté the garlic cloves until lightly browned on all sides.
When the garlic has browned, discard it and add the chopped sage to the pan and cook stirring for about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and beans. Season with salt and black pepper, keeping in mind that the sausages are already fairly salty. Add a pinch of dried red pepper flakes.
Add the sausage. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down to medium-low. Cover the pan and cook at a gentle simmer until the sausages feel tender when pricked with a fork, about 20 minutes. Check the pan occasionally and add a little water if all the liquid in the pan evaporates before the sausages are done. Also turn the sausages once with tongs, being careful not to pierce them.
Serve hot, drizzled with additional extra virgin olive oil and accompanied by crusty bread.
Wine Pairing: Barbera d’Asti, Rosso di Montalcino
Last year, I came across a recipe for turkey sausages and cannellini beans all’uccelletta on The Cooking Channel’s show, Extra Virgin. It’s a classic Tuscan dish, where the beans are cooked in a similar fashion as one would small birds, that is, seasoned with sage or, as in this case, with fresh bay leaves.
We enjoyed this dish a lot; but after experimenting with it, I developed my own recipe, using sweet Italian pork sausages and canned crushed Italian tomatoes rather than fresh cherry tomatoes.
Enjoy this dish all year round, served with crusty Italian bread to sop up the sauce.
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 sweet Italian pork sausages
5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced into chunks
1 28-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
5 fresh bay leaves
small pinch fennel pollen (optional)
2 handfuls fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Heat a sauté pan large enough to hold the sausages in a single layer over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to heat. Once hot, add the sausages and brown on all sides, for about 10 minutes total. Remove the sausages from the pan to plate and reserve.
Add the garlic, and sauté just until golden. With a wooden spoon, stir in the chopped tomatoes and crushed red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. (When seasoning, be aware that the sausages may already contain salt.) Lower the flame, and cover the pan with a lid, simmer for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have thickened to a sauce-like consistency.
Add the browned sausages (and any juice left on the plate), the beans, bay leaves, and optional fennel pollen to the thickened tomatoes. Stir well and simmer uncovered for another 10 minutes.
Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with the chopped parsley before serving.
For those interested in the original Cooking Channel recipe, here’s a to that recipe.
Wine Pairing: Chianti Classico, Sangiovese, Merlot