Jun 22, 2009

Cooking tips - beans

Fagioli––Italian for beans––are the cheapest, most rendering edible leguminous plant found in Italian kitchens. The famous pasta e fagioli soup is a peasant dish, made with leftover bits of pasta and common kidney beans. Very affordable and ginormously tasty.

I'm no fundamentalist when it comes to cooking beans. I use canned beans freely (provided they be well rinsed of their gelatinous storing gunk), but the healthiest, tastiest and most common beans used in Italian cuisine are dried beans. Yes, cooking dried beans takes more time than opening a can, but you’ll be richly rewarded with superior flavor and texture. They will keep almost indefinitely, and a well-stocked Italian pantry always has a selection of two or more kinds of dried beans.

Here are a few of my mother's storing tips:

A) Dried beans should be stored at room temperature in covered containers.
B) Do not keep dried beans in the refrigerator! If stored incorrectly, the beans may absorb water and spoil before you have a chance to use them.
C) The plastic bags beans are packaged in are good for storage if they are airtight. Once opened, the bag can be closed with a twist tie.
D) For the longest storage life, keep beans in a glass or ceramic container with a tight fitting lid.

There is a specific routine when preparing dried beans and other pulse. Here it is:

1. Sort: Arrange dried beans on a sheet pan or wide platter and sort through them to pick out any small rocks, pieces of dirt, beans with holes or cavities, badly misshapen or shriveled ones and those greatly undersized or discolored. Running your fingers through the bag feels great, but is not enough.

2. Rinse: Rinse the sorted beans well in cold, running water. Do this right before soaking, as beans tend to start the rehydration process as soon as they come in contact with liquid.

3. Soak: Soaking beans before cooking shortens cooking time and helps to leech out some of those indigestible sugars that cause, among other things, proverbial bean flatulence. There are two simple ways to get the job done, one involving a longer procedure. Overnight soaking takes time and some advance planning, but needs very little effort.

a) Regular soak: Put beans into a large bowl and cover with 2 to 3 inches of cool, clean water. Set aside at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight; then drain well. (If it's really warm in your kitchen, soak the beans in the refrigerator instead to avoid fermentation, which makes the beans turn sour. Soaking in refrigerator requires a little while longer though, as cold water slows rehydration and the beans will take longer to cook)

b) Quick soak: Put beans into a large pot and cover with 2 to 3 inches of cool, clean water. Bring to a boil and turn briskly for 2 to 3 minutes. Cover and set aside off of the heat for 1 hour; then drain well.

4. Cook: Put soaked beans into a large pot and cover with 2 inches of water or stock. (don't add salt at this point, since that slows the beans softening.) Slowly bring to a boil, skimming off any foam on the surface. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid if necessary, until beans are tender when mashed or pierced with a fork. Cooking times vary with the variety, age and size of beans; generally you’ll be looking at about 1 to 2 hours.

Trivia Note: I have to check with Renee about this, but dreaming of beans is sometimes said to be a sign of impending conflict.


  1. gave me a good smile with your footnote. smalls good friend. hope you and E had a great weekend!

  2. Lola I just made almost this exact dish for the birthday party we went to on Saturday.
    I used spicy Italian sausage links and some chipoltle powder for heat and brown sugar and crushed pineapple for sweetness. It is one of the first things to disappear from the food table.

  3. Wow Lola, Beans beans, give me more beans!
    This bean recipe with sausage is to die for. I love that pot of beans.
    Grazie :)

  4. I've told you this before, but you really have a talent for culinary explanation. Seriously, I don't even like beans and I found this post incredibly readable, and your pictures are always aesthetically pleasing!

    BTW, I understand about the 7-year old. It was emotionally draining to write. Just posted a picture with no horrifying backstory, though...just a physical-meets-magical oddity. :)

  5. I know what I'm making this weekend! This looks fabulous. And your footnote is a hoot, not to be mistaken for a toot :-)

  6. Mmmmm. I love beans. (And no kid's silly song to follow.)

    One of my signature dishes is Pasta e fagioli. (One of two.) Thanks for the dried been routine. I'm very lazy about this kind of attention to detail.

  7. Hi Lola--looks great! Beans are truely amazing--high protien, low fat, hearty, delicious!

    A note about soaking beans--I think that the whole thing started a long time ago (like, in the 19th century and before), when cooking fuel (i.e., wood) was at a premium--by soaking the beans first, the cooking time is greatly reduced meaning less wood was needed. I have always used one of your two soaking methods up until about 6 months ago when I saw that Rick Bayless doesn't soak his beans:


    Now, Rick is not Italian and doesn't make Italian food, but he knows his beans. Now I don't soak them and haven't noticed a difference. (longer cooking time accepted)

    Just my 2 cents!


  8. Ciao Lola! Great post! I have to try that recipe soon. There must be something in the air... last night I made pasta fagioli with fresh beans. Mmmm!! It was a cool evening here, and it tasted so good.

  9. I just planted four packets of seed beans this morning. Borlotti, and three types of runner beans which will be ready to pick when we return from Positano. That's how much we love beans.
    I make them your way but let the pasta cook in the bean sauce for the last five minutes (no sausage).
    And it tastes even better the next day!

  10. Ah! One of my favorite dishes, cooked for me by my father's Italian friend, was Pasta E Fagioli. Yum! I wish I had a bowl now!

  11. Just what a girl needs on this chilly day in Joburg

    thanks for the recipe


  12. I love beans! ... and they are in the refrigerator ... oops. Thank you for the tips and the wonderful recipe! I will try this tomorrow and get those beans out of the fridge!

    By the way, I have been tagged for a meme...I'm not sure if you have done this same one before, but if you have time I'd love to know what your answers are!

    all the best,

  13. hmmm...somethings different here... somethings changed, i like it!

    and i LOVE this recipe.yum yum yummy. I am sure I will try this one, I know I can do it, especially running my fingers through the beans.

    thank you dear ♥

  14. This looks lovely, Lola. I really need to be more disciplined about cooking up dried beans - you're right about taste, texture, everything.

    One of my roommates in college made refried beans (without lard) almost every day. He was a massive athlete and could feed himself with cheap beans and a bag of tortilla chips - perfect "guy" college food!

  15. Lola! Thank you for a treasure chest of a post! I'm going to look in my pantry and see if I can make this tonight! We soak beans similarly for Indian dishes. As far as I know, there are no canned beans in India yet.

    I read this in the Washington Post a couple of days ago and thought of you - a question about dried beans vs canned beans. :)



  16. i do know about the soaking them first for the 8 hours although i hardly do so. I use the pressurized Cooker, so i can get straight to it. But didn't know abt the part where it will go bad if you were to actually leave it in a humid place for those long hours though!

    Have a great week, Lola!


  17. I will certainly have to sleep with the window open after Fagioli all’Uccelletto.
    I love beans but I bet I've never had anything as good as this.
    I love being full of beans.
    Must have acrack at this one! ~ Eddie

  18. Ha! One of my favourite dishes, Tuscan bean stew! Perfect for a winter's evening, with or without sausages! I usually mix cannellini and borlotti beans and toss in extra dried sage - which yes, does mean I end up using the whole can of tomatoes! And since I have no truck with storing, soaking and cooking beans, I'm quite happy with the tinned variety, very well rinsed, of course!
    There now, you've reminded me what I can make for supper tonight! :-)

  19. I'll have to see if I can get all the ingredients to try out the receipe :-)

  20. I loved the way you teased us at the end there. Now I love beans but they do give me (and the rest of the world) a lot of wind. Any ideas how to avoid it - because I'd love to try this recipe.

    I tried your bread pudding one a couple of weeks ago (Torta de Pana) and it was stupendous. Thanks again


  21. A good excuse for a window open. Hopefully there's a nice breeze, too. Looks wonderful!

  22. Okay, now I am quite literally drooling - quite a horrid sight, I'm sure, but my god Lola, you sure know how to make a girl feel hungry and happy. YUM!

  23. Lola laughed at the last line.

    I want that cookbook immediately. I also want that picture of the man eating in the cookbook too.

    I have a different meaning for dreaming of beans. But it is just my version so I don't know which is the right one. I am going to stick with mine.

    Beans in a dream setting signifies your connection to your roots and to all of humanity. They are also symbolic of the soul and immortality.

    My two cents.

    Love you Lola.

    Renee xoxo

  24. hee hee.... love the window open remark ;-) I love this recipe, too...