Not too much pork though. Just enough to lend delicious piggy flavor to the beans. Italians love beans and I am particularly enamored with many wonderful Italian bean recipes, such as this one from Fagioli, The Bean Cuisine of Italy by Judith Barrett. I’ve made a few minor modifications.
Beans and Pork
2 cups dried navy beans or cannellini beans
6 oz. salt pork or pancetta, cut into 1″ dice
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red onion, finely chopped or 2 Tablespoons dried minced onion
10 sprigs Italian parsley, leaves only, chopped
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
Soak beans (see Note). Drain and rinse under cold water. Combine beans, salt pork, and 12 cups of cold water in a soup pot. Heat over medium-high until it reaches a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook for about 1 hour until beans are tender. Reserve 6 cups of the cooking liquid and drain the beans. If using dried onion, add it to the reserved water.
In the same pot, heat olive oil. Sauté garlic, red onion (if using), and parsley for about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, a generous sprinkle of salt, black pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Add beans and reserved water. Once beans come to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes. Check seasoning; add more salt and pepper if needed. Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid. This next part-mashing the beans-is optional, but it will result in creamier beans. Take 1 cup of beans and mash with a potato masher. Add back the rest of the beans and as much cooking liquid as you like. If you add just a little, the beans will have very little sauce. If you add more, the mashed beans will thicken it and make a lovely sauce. If you add a lot, you’ll have soup! All are good choices.
Note: You have 2 ways to soak beans. You can soak the beans at least 4 hours or overnight – cover them with a few inches of cool water. Or if you want them in ¼ the time, use the fast soak method. Put the beans in a pot and cover them with a few inches of cool water. Bring to a boil, and boil rapidly for 3 minutes (2 minutes at sea level). Remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for 1-2 hours.
Adapted from Fagioli, The Bean Cuisine of Italy by Judith Barrett, Rodale, Inc., 2004.