My wife and I are beanophiles, pure and simple. And could there be a food more pure and simple?
Time was, I bought navy beans at Kroger, plastic sacks of old dry beans grown who knows where and who knows how long ago. I soaked them, and they woke up from their long sleep, and we made beautiful music together (that is probably not the expression I should use). They were very okay.
Then as an adult, with time and interest in cooking, it dawned on me that I grew up in one of the world’s great bean-producing geographic locations, grew up in the heart of mid-Michigan bean country and went to school with farm kids whose dads grew beans, kids who became farmers and bean growers themselves once they came of age. Why not buy beans grown by my classmate Vern Stephen? Not those desiccated, mummified legumes I bought at Kroger but young beans fresh from Vern’s fields. That has been my practice for some time now.
Then one day at a local farmers market my wife points and says: Those!
I mean these:
Roman beans, cranberry beans, borlotti beans in Italian, still in their pods. Back home she pulls down a cookbook.
I mean this:
And we make maltagliati con fagioli. Requiring first that we unpod the beans at the kitchen table, yielding such lovely leguminous riches.
Nothing fancy in the recipe. As you can see by the scrawl, this is how someone’s nonna (probably everyone’s nonna) used to make bean soup back in Romagna.
The young Roman beans cook a little faster than dried beans. In 90 minutes or so they become soft and plump, delicate and tasty. And if you go easy on the water, there’s a thick silky brown broth. I learned, I think from Marcella Hazan, to add just enough water to cover the beans, which gives you that nice rich broth.
Add a little pasta and you have pasta fagioli. The recipe includes directions for making your own pasta and cutting it badly–the Italian “maltagliati,” meaning badly cut. I think the real maltagliati come from scraps left over when making and cutting pasta for ravioli and pappardelle and tagliatelle–it’s the leftover stuff you would keep and still make use of in a kitchen where there was little or no waste.
I usually just crunch a nest or two of tagliatelle to make my maltagliati.
This is a heavenly soup, pure and simple.