Tuscan mountain beans with lemon broccoli and polenta

by Katie on February 28, 2011

Post image for Tuscan mountain beans with lemon broccoli and polenta

A yearning to taste the real flavors of Italy, a recommendation by America’s Test Kitchen’s Christopher Kimball, and a deep admiration for Lynne Rosetto Kasper of The Spendid Table radio program drew me to her cookbook The Italian Country Table: Home Cooking from Italy’s Farmhouse Kitchens. Published in 1999, this is Kasper’s second book, and for anyone interested in low-fuss high-flavor rustic Italian cooking, this is your cookbook.

Kasper’s first cookbook, The Splendid Table, for which her radio program was named, focused on northern Italian cooking and won two major cookbook-of-the-year awards when it came out in 1992. Kasper has spent many years in Italy exploring the country’s food culture, and her passion for the subject leaps off the page in her stories and recipes. Her deep desire to inspire and educate the home cook also shines through, as many recipes in The Italian Country Table feature a “cook-to-cook” note in addition to the headnote, in which she provides extra information and advice.

I recently selected three recipes from this cookbook to make a meal. First, I chose the beans from her Tuscan mountain supper (p. 186). So many recipes these days are Tuscan this and Tuscan that. I wanted to know: what does Tuscan really mean? Second, I chose her recipe for seared broccoli with lemon (p. 284) so I could learn to prepare broccoli that was browned yet cooked through, and tasty enough to leave you wanting more. My prior efforts at doing so had not been successful, and I needed to rectify this. Finally, to round out the meal, I followed her instructions for “cooking effortless polenta” (p. 172) to discover how they do it in the old world.

Today I’ll share my adaptations of the Tuscan mountain beans and lemon broccoli, and leave it to you for now to take care of your polenta. (I’ll be writing a post specifically on polenta later this week, so stay tuned). Confession: I’ve made the beans three times since I got the book out of my local library a couple weeks ago, and the broccoli twice.

You can definitely prepare this meal within an hour, unless you slow-cook your polenta, in which case it’ll take longer. Regardless, once you get your polenta going, you can start the beans, and once you have the beans going, you can prepare the broccoli.

Tuscan mountain beans

Adapted from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Italian Country Table

Serves 4-6

Kasper’s recipe calls for two cups of cooked beans. I’ve adapted the recipe for three cups of cooked beans; that way, if you use canned beans, you can simply use two 15-ounce cans. I’ve tried it with white (navy) beans I had cooked from scratch as well as canned organic pinto beans (pictured above). The version with home-cooked beans was superior, but the canned version surely satisfied. If you have leftovers, that’s good, as this dish is even better the second day. The fresh herbs here are key to the dish and shouldn’t be substituted with dried.

1 medium/large onion, chopped fine
1/3 cup (tightly packed) fresh Italian parsley, chopped fine
6 large fresh sage leaves, chopped fine
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 large garlic cloves, minced
5-6 canned organic whole tomatoes, with 1/3 cup of their liquid (about 1 15-ounce can of whole tomatoes)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cups cooked beans (if using canned, 2 15-ounce cans)
1 1/4 cup liquid – either the bean cooking liquid, water, vegetable broth, or a combination

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Saute the onion, parsley, and sage for 5-10 minutes until the onion starts to brown. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir in the garlic and cook one minute more.

Add the tomatoes, their liquid, and the tomato paste. Stir and cook an additional 10 minutes, as Kasper states, “to deepen the flavors.”

Add the beans and 1 cup of bean liquid (or water, or stock). Stir and bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Check the beans periodically and add additional bean liquid/water if the mixture starts to dry out. Towards the end of the cooking time, taste and add salt and/or pepper to taste.

 

***

Seared broccoli with lemon

Adapted (though just barely) from Lynne Rosetto Kasper’s The Italian Country Table

Serves 3-4

A microplane grater comes in handy here for the lemon zest.

1 bunch broccoli (about 3-4 stalks), stems peeled
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Shredded zest of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Lemon wedges

Slice each broccoli stalk lengthwise into halves or, for particularly thick stalks, thirds. Place a steamer basket in a large pot with one inch of boiling water. Steam the broccoli for three minutes. Remove from steamer basket and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.

Heat the olive oil in a large (say, 12-inch) saute pan over medium high heat. Place the broccoli stalks in the pan and saute until they become slightly browned on one side. Pay attention to the heat level so the broccoli browns but the oil does not burn. Sprinkle the broccoli with the lemon zest, salt, and pepper, and turn to brown on the second side. Serve with lemon wedges.

***

Nothing could replace experiencing such a meal in a rustic Italian farm house, surrounded by tomato fields and olive groves, fire crackling, wine flowing. In her book, Kasper provides a list of Italian guest farms for when the opportunity arises, and until I venture to the hills following her lead, I may never truly understand what Tuscan means. Still, it’s a thrill to able to attempt to manifest the flavors of Italy in my own kitchen.

 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

jody April 30, 2011 at 2:56 pm

This looks excellent! I think I’m going to have to try this one!

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Pamela June 14, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I finally made this last night for dinner using fresh herbs out of the garden and it was divine! I added a bit of fresh oregano as I have so much of it. Everyone but my incredibly picky 5-year-old loved, and my 8-year-old had seconds. We at the leftover polenta this morning for breakfast with honey and fresh strawberries–also out of the garden. Thanks!

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Katie June 14, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Hi Pamela – That sounds wonderful! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I love how you got creative with the leftover polenta, too. Thanks so much for leaving a comment.

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