Fagioli di Toscana

Braised Haricot Beans with Pancetta

A wonderful baked bean dish. The simple action of assembling the dish and then baking the beans in the oven seems to dramatically alter their taste and texture. This dish cannot be successfully done on top of the cooker.

Ingredients

  • 500 g haricot beans, soaked overnight and rinsed thoroughly
  • 6 garlic cloves in their skins
  • 1 large red chilli pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 200 g smoked pancetta in the piece, trimmed and cut into lardons
  • good olive oil
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1 cm dice
  • 2 celery sticks, peeled and cut into
  • 1 cm dice
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut into 1 cm dice
  • 500 g tinned tomato pieces with their juices

Method

Cover the soaked beans with fresh cold water and bring to the boil. Skim, and add the garlic, chilli and bay leaves and simmer for about 1 hour or until nearly tender. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. While the beans are cooking prepare the rest of the ingredients, starting with the pancetta. Heat a little olive oil in a casserole big enough to hold the vegetables, pancetta and beans comfortably. Add the pancetta and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it has coloured and rendered a lot of fat, about 10–15 minutes. Add the carrot, celery and onion, and sweat for a further 5 minutes until glistening and coated in the pancetta fat. Add the tomato pieces and their juices and bring to a simmer.

Check if the beans are nearly tender, then transfer them to the casserole with a slotted spoon or spider. (Do not throw away their liquor.) Pick out the chilli and garlic, chop them (after discarding the garlic skins), then add to the casserole. Stir all this together then add enough of the bean cooking liquor to just cover everything. Stir again. Cover the casserole and bake for 1 hour.

Remove from the oven and set aside for 15 minutes to allow the casserole to reduce to sub-volcanic temperatures. Remove the lid at the table. The beans should not need seasoning, the pancetta and chilli will have seen to that.

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