Back to cooking with beans I got at the Salone. I still haven’t made it even half way through my stash. Today’s featured bean: Fagioli di Conio, from Liguria. I somehow remember these little beans costing more than usual. But caught up in my Salone bean-buying frenzy, I bought them anyway. They came in a cute little bag, and were being sold by two very kind ladies. I’m a sucker.
I’m very organized when it come to beans. Thinking ahead, I soaked them overnight, cooked them the following morning, and put them safely in the fridge to use later that evening. I was going to make Zemin, a Ligurian dish, that involved Swiss chard, pork and potatoes. And 500 grams of beans, of course.
But things never work out as planned. I went out for lunch, and Domenico and Emma raided the fridge, eating most of the beans. And to top if off, they complained about them. “They didn’t taste like anything. They were really boring.” Well, of course they were really boring! They were plain boiled beans I hadn’t done anything with. Who told you to eat them anyway?!
Now it’s Saturday, and I’ve got about a cup and a half of beans left, and lunch to make. So I decided to think of the beans as a condiment, rather than a main ingredient. Pasta e Fagioli naturally sprang to mind. But I actually don’t like traditional pasta e fagioli. It can’t decide if it’s a soup or a pasta, and is mushy and kind of blah. I wanted some sort of sauce that had some beans in it; that would coat the pasta without becoming a disguised mush.
To bulk up the lack of beans, I added a stray fennel bulb I had in the fridge, plus an onion. And to add porkiness, four thick slices of salami that someone had given us for Christmas. Since I was already in the salami/fennel mode, I also dug into my jar of fennel pollen. This is the stuff of gods, the small yellow buds of wild fennel, dried and crushed into powder. It’s not easy to get, but if you can, it really packs a wallop. (you can substitute fennel seed).
A word about the salami. If you’re a fan of this blog, you know I make free use of guanciale and/or pancetta in a lot of dishes. Sauteed first, to render its fat, the little cubes of pork become crisp and add a porky depth to any dish. But if you don’t have an entire guanciale hanging out in your fridge (or from beneath your stairwell, like my friend Judy) then you can always switch in other meaty bits. I love using salami, since it stays chewy and soft, with enough of the fat seeping out to flavor every bite.
I used whole wheat pasta for this dish, something I don’t do so often. Why? It was in the cupboard. But I have to admit, it was a good choice with this beany/piggy dish.
Pasta with Beans and Fennel
2 cups cooked beans*
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 head fennel
1 small onion
1 stalk celery
4 thick slices of salami, cut into small cubes.
3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp fennel pollen (or 1/4 tsp fennel seeds)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
400 grams whole wheat pasta
Soak your beans overnight and cook. Drain, reserving the cooking water.
Chop onion and fennel into dice.
Pour oil into pan large enough to hold all of cook pasta later. Add onion, celery, fennel, salt and red pepper flakes. Cook until the onion is quite soft, about 8 minutes or so. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the salami and let cook for about 6 minutes, stirring. Add drained beans and fennel pollen and stir. Add 2/3 cup of the drained bean cooking water, bring to simmer, cover and let cook gently for about 8 minutes, to let flavors blend.
Meanwhile, bring large pot of salted water to boil and cook pasta al dente. Drain, reserving a half cup of the pasta water.
Add drained pasta to pan and stir over low heat. Turn off heat, add cheese, sprinkling so it doesn’t clump up. Stir, adding some of the reserved pasta water to help melt the cheese and turn the pasta creamy. Stir well and serve.
*I used fagioli di Conio, which were excellent. These little beans plumped up nicely and had a creamy consistency since they are almost without skins. But any white bean will do for this dish. You could use canned (bleh) but I recommend dried if possible. The taste is so much superior.