On “Pasta and Beans” and on how beans saved the world

Probably if you were asked what is the italian national dish, you would confidently reply: pizza. If so, you’ll surprise to know that many Italians would answer, instead: pasta and beans. A dish present in all italian regions, from the Alps to the Mediterranean. Why so popular?

When in 1999 the New York Times asked prominent writers to describe the most extraordinary invention, Umbero Eco – Nobel Prize-winning author of “The Name of the Rose” – wrote How the Bean Saved Civilization to explain why the discovery that has changed our lives is the “bean”.

Beans but also peas and lentils. Eco said:  “All these fruits of the earth are rich in vegetable proteins, as anyone who goes on a low-meat diet knows, for the nutritionist will be sure to insist that a nice dish of lentils or split peas has the nutritional value of a thick, juicy steak. Now the poor, in those remote Middle Ages, did not eat meat, unless they managed to raise a few chickens or engaged in poaching (the game of the forest was the property of the lords). And as I mentioned earlier, this poor diet begat a population that was ill nourished, thin, sickly, short and incapable of tending the fields.

So when, in the 10th century, the cultivation of legumes began to spread, it had a profound effect on Europe. Working people were able to eat more protein; as a result, they became more robust, lived longer, created more children and repopulated a continent.”

The humble origins of this legume are perhaps represented with a greater expressive power by a legendary scene in the movie “They call me Trinity” where Terence Hill, extremely hungry, eats loads of beans directly from the pan.

Both popular and fine literary culture, give honour to a spread , cheap and healthy aliment. Because of these reasons beans are present in my diet in different qualities and types. They are the main ingredient of the following version of “pasta and beans”, which you’ll make in 4 steps , cooking pasta together with beans in the same pan: this will make the dish creamier due to starch released from the pasta.

 

Serves 2:

  • 200 gr of boiled beans
  • 150 gr of pasta
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 chilli
  • 1 can of tomatoes
  • basil
  • oil
  • salt
  • coriander
Remember, if you use dried beans soak them in water at least one night before! You will shorten the cooking time this way.

Step 1:

Pour the tomatoes into the pan together with garlic, chilli, coriander and a little oil. Cook for 10 minutes.

Step 2:

Add the legumes. I mixed two different kind of beans, soybeans and red kidney beans, both I cook the day before… for about 2 hours! Honestly I seldom spend so much time to cook just one ingredient, much more often I use canned beans.  Final result is equally good.

Step 3:

Pour the pasta, add salt and keep cooking for 10 minutes more. You need to use the “short pasta”, like tubes and fusilli.  If you have spaghetti just “break” them in pieces like I did.

Step 4:

Once the pasta and beans is ready, turn off the heat and let stand 5 minutes before serving with some cheese on top (grated parmesan suits it best). Once again I served this pasta on a dish but one day I may dare to taste it from the pan. Food is a primitive instinct, after all.

You Might Also Like