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.
In England for a conference a few decades ago I was taken to dinner by a local guy who ordered something the English like to eat. It came with a side of mushy peas (mushy rhymes with bushy). To the eye the peas looked like they had been cooked 2-3 hours, then stored away to languish in cans for 2-3 decades. They were the color of bile, more texture than taste.
Aside from a few summers I was sent out to the garden to pick peas, and unpodded them and ate them on the spot, I do not have warm memories of peas.
One of my fondest memories is having lunch at the Buca del Orafo in Florence. My wife took me there the first time–in 1978. We had a Fiorentina, the giant Italian t-bone steak, which was awesome.
In subsequent visits we’ve skipped the steak and enjoyed the shaved artichoke and pecorino antipasto, pasta with fresh peas, or ribolitta, finishing, if they are in season, with the fragoline, the mountain strawberries served with lemon juice and sugar, tiny flavor bombs that would put you over the top.
Every year we were greeted by the same waiter, Piero, who was quiet and genial and attentive. Maybe it was the third or fourth time we ate there, we had Tuscan beans and tuna for antipasto. He set the plate down and said, “Now you really should have some of excellent extra virgin olive oil,” and poured out that luscious green gold.
Shown above: an approximation of that heaven. The dish is good any time of year. Fresh beans, canned beans (drained and rinsed). I used chickpeas today. Shown below: cannellini beans with diced campari tomato.
It’s a question of preference, tradition, and knowing what you like. For a dish like this I want tomato to be peeled, seeded, and diced. It’s March. The campari tomatoes are in the grocery story and Costco. They are bursting with flavor. Peeling and extracting seeds takes a while. A job made less onerous if accompanied by a glass of wine.
At the Buca, I’m pretty sure there will no tomato. And given the quality of the ingredients, the ambiance of the restaurant, and what’s just outside the door (the Arno and Ponte Vecchio) it won’t matter.