August Goodbye: all time favorite, Tuscan bean soup
Everyday as the sun rises and the rooster crows, life presents itself anew. As the new east shining star fades away from the sky, the brightness of the new day brings with its fresh air hope and good intention. How can we turn and ordinary day into an extraordinary, exceptionally beautiful day, during which the incessant tide of life stops for a moment to show us that we are HERE in this eternal moment. How can we learn to slow down the fast pace of our lives to take time to listen to the birds sing, to appreciate the cooling effect of a breeze on a hot Summer day, look into our children’s eyes, and notice the flowers that remind us of the healing pleasure of beauty.
How can we find the way to a life that is fit to the measure and the needs of the human kind? I have found myself wondering about these quests often, since I had my children. Children come to us with an ancestral wisdom that for those of us, who have the ears to hear and the eyes to see, and the senses to feel, can guide us to a life of appreciation and gratitude for all those little things, that so often in our adult life go unheard, unseen, and unfelt.
My memory often brings me back to my childhood, during those never-ending, sun burning, hot Summer days, when the smell of the lovingly prepared lunches would find its way to my nose from my grandmother’s kitchen window. She would be in there, cooking while softly whistling along with her kitchen rag over her shoulder and some crumbs in one of her hands to through to her chickens, always loyally by her side.
Cooking was a real inspiration for my grandmother, she used to grow her own food, or else, for the foods she wouldn’t find in her garden she would shop every week from the “veggie man” who would come with his truck to our house. She had fun with food, and she was pretty adventures, she loved to discover new foods and new combinations. I remember she was a lover of avocados, when avocados were still quite unknown in Italy. She even grew an avocado tree, and even now that it has been years since she passed, we still have it, it has become quite big by now, it does not produce fruits, though, since Tuscany isn’t a tropical climate.
My grandmother was truly an amazing cook, you could taste her passion for food in every single dish she prepared, that’s why it would be hard to pick one and say it was her best, but surely there was one that was my absolute favorite ever since I was a little girl: that was her Bean Soup. I’ll never forget that she used to always burn it, just a little, enough so that some of the pasta in it would stick to the bottom of the pot…and that right there, was my favorite part! She was a strong woman, one you would not want to mess with, she always had the last word, she created her own world just the way she wanted it, for many reasons I look up to her still to this day. Her tenacity, audacity and will are perhaps aspects of her character that I like to believe, I got from her.
Whenever I cook or create something, whether is writing or baking, I get in a state of relaxation, something that might look like an earthly nirvana. Now for instance, the act of writing and sharing something I love, like a favorite recipe or thoughts, I especially care about, fills my heart with serenity, a sense of freedom, and gratitude.
Zuppa di Fagioli (Bean Soup)
“Serenity, selflessness, freedom of rage”, this is for Virginia Woolf the state of mind a writer should be in to connect with her inspiration and elevate our souls to higher dimensions while at the same time stay grounded to our earthly lives, view the body as good and recognize the “senses as delightful [as] they feed…the spirit”. By chance I picked up “A room of one’s own” this morning before I came and sat down to write. What an inspiration are Virginia Woolf’s words and yes, I could not agree more, the senses feed our spirit! Just like this tasty and warming soup, this is not only my favorite dish from childhood, but also a classic of Tuscan cuisine!
3 cups dried beans (soaked overnight)
Every week I chose a legume, beans or lentils, that I soak overnight, usually on Sunday night. On Monday morning I rinse the legumes and place them in a crock pot and cook them for a few hours. I always put one long piece of Kombu or Wakame seaweed with my beans. This enriches their flavor and they, also, will be assimilated and processed by our digestive system more easily. This method of cooking the beans in a crock pot is very convenient. If I have to leave the house for the day, I just set the heat on low. In this way I always have cooked ready beans in the fridge, ready to be used!
1 large red onion
3 garlic cloves
4 Tbsp olive oil
½ cup white wine
1 cup tomato preserve or sauce
3 tsp sage
Salt and pepper
Over night soak the beans, the next morning cook them. I usually use a crock pot, add 1 Tbsp of salt and let it cook for several hours until the beans are soft.
Pour olive oil in the pot of your choice and turn heat up to medium. Dice the onion and place it in the pot, add minced garlic, cut the carrots in small pieces, and the minced sage. Sautee for 10 minutes, during th first 5 cover with lid. When you uncover the cooking pot and all the steam comes out don’t forget to stir. Let simmer for another 5 minutes lowering the heat slightly and stirring. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes with no lid. When the onions seems wilted add the white wine and turn the heat to medium high. Let the liquid evaporate. When your “soffritto” looks juicy but not watery add the beans with the water in which they cooked. Cook on slow heat for two hours. Add salt and pepper to taste.
You can serve this dish with small pasta, ditali rigati is my favorite, or else the traditional way to serve this dish is with spelt.What is spelt? It is an ancient grain widely recognized for its many health benefits. Triticum spelta is a hardier and more nutritious cousin to modern wheat. Also, spelt is the most widely spread crop of the norther part of Tuscany called Lunigiana, whose tradition and heritage are worth discovering.
Enjoy this nurturing and healing dish, and let it bring you a feeling of serenity, peace, and freedom. With love.