Once a famous restaurateur travelled to Tuscany especially to taste the beans cooked with sage. Today the "beans in the style of birds" are known throughout Italy and are a popular starter or side dish with polenta, stewed meat and the Tuscan sausage.
The delicacies of the taverns
Already in the 19th century, beans must have had an extraordinary reputation. The merchant and restaurateur, Pellegrino Artusi, travelled to Tuscany for this dish, among others. He found what he was looking for in a Florentine trattoria. Fagiuoli a guisa d'uccellini, beans stewed in the style of birds as he called them in his pan-Italian recipe collection, "La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiar bene" (1891).
On sage, birds and beans
Sage plays a central role in the recipe. In Tuscany, it is used to flavour many game dishes, such as the "roast in bird style" (arrosto all'uccelletto). When bird-catching was still permitted, they too were traditionally seasoned with sage for frying. This is probably where the name all'uccelletto comes from. For the fagioli all'uccelletto, smaller white beans are used. The cannellini variety are perfect. They become creamy on the inside when cooked, but do not spilt.
Fagioli all’uccelletto – Tuscan-style bean stew
- 500 g beans, dried - cannellini
- 200-250 g tomato sauce
- 1 clove garlic
- 5-6 leaves sage
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
- Soak the beans in plenty of cold water overnight, drain them the next day and wash them again. In a casserole, fry the finely chopped garlic in oil until golden brown. Add sage, beans and the strained tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. For a variation of the recipe, douse the garlic with a glass of red wine. Let the wine simmer before adding the rest of the ingredients.
- Now place the lid on the pot and gently cook the beans at low heat for about 2 hours. Stir occasionally and also taste them, as the cooking time changes depending on the type of beans. Add some water if necessary. In Tuscany, the beans are served in a casserole. Some garnish beforehand with a handful of chopped parsley.
Tips for quick variations and the summer kitchen
If you want to save time, you can pre-cook the beans in a pressure cooker. To do this, cover the soaked beans with water and let them boil for 30 minutes after the pressure cooker begins to "whistle". The beans are then cooked in the casserole as in the recipe until they are tender. In summer, you can replace dried beans with fresh ones. They do not need to be soaked. They are only pre-cooked in the pressure cooker for about 10 minutes.
Tomatoes are also ripe in summer. For a tomato sauce, steam the chopped tomatoes with a little olive oil and keep the lid closed until they break up, then strain through a sieve. It is best to make more than you need at the moment. Strained tomatoes are easy to freeze - for the next stew or a sugo.