Victor and Marcella Hazan went to great lengths to find the best ingredients. Looking for great beans, they discovered the Rancho Gordo bean company run by Steve Sando in California. Soon they began an email correspondence with Steve, and discovered they were kindred spirits brought together by a love of beans. Mr. Sando asked Marcella about her favorite bean. She told him it was the Sorana, a prized variety of Cannellini or pole bean grown only near the small town of Sorana in Tuscany. It has a very thin and tender skin and is creamy with a delicious flavor.
Mr. Sando had never heard of them, but he loved to discover heirloom beans and he started to research. He learned that the Sorana bean had been prized for centuries by the Mangiafagioli (bean eaters), Tuscans who were very particular about their beans. After much hard work he had success in garnering some seeds and was able to plant a small crop whose bounty he hoped to share with Marcella. Unfortunately, prior to his harvest, she passed away. However, Victor tried the beans and felt they reflected the beans that Marcella had loved. Since the Sorana bean is a protected denomination of origin, Mr. Sando couldn’t use the name and asked Victor if he could name them Marcella in her honor. Victor gladly gave his approval and now they are for sale on Rancho Gordo’s website.
Great Press and Favorite Recipes
The bean has gotten great press, including a feature in the New York Times. In our house we prepare them in multiple ways, and Giuliano often uses them in recipes that he teaches to our students. Some favorites are: Shrimp and Beans, from How to Cook Italian, Beans and Tuna Salad (a classic) from How to Cook Italian, Beef Stew with Cannellini Beans and Sage from Every Night Italian, Warm Cime di Rape Salad with Cannellini Beans, from Marcella Cucina, The Classic Tuscan Ribollita Soup from Every Night Italian, and of course, Pasta e Fagioli, the quintessential comfort soup from Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta. Perhaps my favorite preparation is the first way I remember Marcella serving beans. Simple and delicious, the flavor of the bean was the center of the dish. The recipe, known as Assunta’s Beans came out of Victor’s request to eat a dish they had not tasted in 45 years. For the full story, please read it in Marcella Cucina, page 342. The dish was Assunta’s rendition of Fagioli al Fiasco (Beans in a Flask), a dish that is now making a resurgence. Marcella’s recipe calls for cranberry beans because she was in Venice at the time where marvelous fresh cranberry beans were available. Since Assunta used to make them with cannellini beans, Giuliano decided to try them with the Marcella beans and they were delicious. To shorten the cooking time, you can soak the Marcella beans for about 6 hours, but you can also skip soaking them, which is what Giuliano does.
Adapted from Marcella Cucina, by Marcella Hazan
I Fagioli Di Assunta
1 cup dried Marcella Beans
3 Table Spoons Giuliano’s Classic extra virgin olive oil
4 to 6 fresh sage leaves
3 garlic gloves, peeled and lightly mashed with a knife handle
Black pepper ground fresh
Produces 8 small or 6 large servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
- Put the beans and all the other ingredients into the pot. Add enough water to cover the beans by about 1 ½ inches. Wrap a moist cloth towel around a tight fitting lid and cover the pot with it. Turn on the heat to high. Once the water boils turn the heat down to a gentle simmer. The beans should cook at the barest suggestion of a simmer.
- Stir the beans from time to time. If the water no longer covers the beans, add 2 table-spoons warm water, stir, and close the pot again. Continue adding warm water as necessary until the beans are tender. Check the beans; frequently. They should never be soaking in water but should have just enough to keep from sticking. If you have not soaked the beans before cooking them, they will need to cook for 2 ½ to 3 hours. If you have soaked them beforehand, about 1 ½ hours. Taste them. They should be firm but tender, and the skin should have remained whole without cracking.
- Drizzle with olive oil when serving.
Ahead-of-time note: They are better the moment they are done, but you can cook them through to the end even a day in advance. Refrigerate in a tightly sealed container and reheat them gently with a tablespoon or so of water.