The regions of Tuscany and Umbria are considered the “Heart of Italy”, lying as they do in the geographic middle of the country. Adjacent to each other, their cuisines are quite similar. Simple, country cooking; not a lot of ingredients. Robust flavors attained by using the freshest local products, rather than a lot of sauces and seasonings. We see the source of their two favorite ingredients all along the routes we follow on our bike tours through the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside – olive orchards for their famed olive oil, and vineyards for their wines.
Beans also have a predominate role on the tables of Tuscany and Umbria. Tuscans have been referred to as ‘bean eaters’ by other Italians. In Tuscany you will find simple white beans, fagioli al fiasco, which have been cooked in a flask, or fiasco. Farmers would fill the bottle with beans and water, and place them in the embers of the fire before retiring. In the morning, the beans would be cooked. Fiasco is also used to refer to the straw covered glass bottle traditionally used to bottle Chianti.
Umbria is particularly well known for its beans and lentils, which are dried and appear on their table year round. Some very special heirloom varieties include Roveja di Civita di Cascia, small wild peas that grow high on the slopes of the Sibillini mountains, and the Lake Trasimeno bean, a tiny bean about the size of a grain of rice, which are eaten both dried and fresh. Also from Lake Trasimeno is the fagiolino, a eyeless type of black-eyed pea, Cave di Foligno’s rare variety of navy bean, the fagiolo or the earthy cicerchie, a type of chickpea. The town of Castelluccio produces some wonderful tiny lentils.
Here in the US, I only rarely see fresh shell beans at my farm stand. This time of year I enjoy cranberry beans, a light to medium tan bean streaked with red. In Italy I find the very similar borlotti bean, also known as the Roman bean, a variety of cranberry bean bred in Italy to have a thicker skin.
With the snap of autumn in the air, my dinners are moving away from the grill towards more hearty dishes like braised meats. A nice fresh pork butt, and beans, olive oil and wine, here come together to create a nice fall dinner.
Brasato di Maiale con Fagioli – Braised Pork with Beans
Number of servings: Serves 6-8