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Recipe: Tuscan Beans With Olive Oil and Aromatics

Serves 6-8

1½ cups dried white beans, such as cannellini, soaked overnight and drained

Any or all of the following aromatics: 1 small onion, quartered; 1 garlic clove, lightly crushed; 4 or 5 sage leaves; 2 bay leaves; 2 bay leaves; 12 black peppercorns; 1 small dried hot red chili

¼ cup best-quality extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black or white pepper

1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley

Set the beans in a saucepan and add 3½ cups water and any or all of the aromatics. Do not add salt. Bring the water to a boil, turn the heat down, cover the beans and simmer gently for 30 minutes to 1½ hours, adding boiling water from time to time if necessary to keep the beans from scorching. Be attentive; if the water gets low, the beans will scorch very quickly. Cooking time depends on the size and age of the beans, which is hard to assess. At the end of 30 minutes, start testing the beans to judge how tender they are and continue testing periodically until the beans are done. They should be very tender but not falling apart.

Remove the beans from the heat and drain them, reserving the cooking liquid. Discard the aromatics used in cooking the beans. At this point, if you wish, remove about ½ to ¾ cup cooked beans and crush them gently, using a fork, in about ½ cup of the reserved cooking liquid. Then stir in the crushed beans with the whole cooked beans. Add more cooking liquid if you wish to reach the desired consistency. Or leave all the beans whole and add ½ cup or more of the reserved cooking liquid.

Add olive oil to the beans while hot and stir to coat the beans well. Dress them with one of the combinations or devise your own:

e_SBlt 1 garlic clove, minced, and 6 scallions, both white and green parts, sliced on the diagonal.

e_SBlt A little chopped raw onion and finely slivered fresh green chilies.

e_SBlt The juice of ½ lemon along with ½ teaspoon ground cumin and chopped fresh hot red chilies or a pinch of hot red pepper flakes.

e_SBlt Finely minced fresh green herbs — basil, dill, fennel tops, chervil, sage, lovage, borage or others.

Taste and add salt and freshly ground black or white pepper after dressing the beans. Whatever the flavors or garnishes, the beans should be sprinkled with minced parsley before serving. Serve hot or at room temperature.

From “The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook,” by Nancy Harmon Jenkins

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