Roman Beans and Kale

January 12, 2018

I don’t remember my mother making Roman Beans and Kale till I was in my late teens.

The first time she made it, I remember her talking about her mother making it.  For something she really liked, she waited an awfully long time to make it.  But then, again, I did the same thing with her pasta è fagioli.

There were some dishes from her childhood that she talked about but never made.  Tiella is the one that I remember most.  It took me multiple tries over many years to recreate it from her description.

Roman beans and kale might seem a little unusual to many American palates due to the length of time the kale is cooked.  There is a point where it becomes silky but most definitely not mushy.  Southerners, though, would find the kale in this recipe cooked in a familiar way.  It is much like the Southern low-and-slow style of cooking greens of various types, such as collards or mustard greens, until they achieve the requisite tenderness.

A bunch of kale

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Texture is an important part of this dish. The beans should yield but not be falling apart.  The kale should not provide any resistance the way it would if it were just quickly sautéed.  The pasta, however, should be al dente.

Roman beans

Beans, kale and pasta are all pretty mellow-tasting in my estimation.  The garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese are what give this dish its flavor oomph!  At the table, I add crushed red pepper but it shouldn’t be cooked into the dish.

Roman beans are also called Borlotti or Cranberry beans.  Depending on where you live you might have to order them.  In a pinch, though, you could use pinto beans or Anasazi beans.  (If you’re a bean savant, you’ll notice that I used Anasazi beans as I was unable to find Roman beans after searching market shelves in two different cities for a couple of months.  Though I could have gotten them online, I didn’t think the huge price premium was worth it.)

Anasazi beans

My mother’s approach to cooking most foods was definitely low and slow.  It’s classically Italian and so NOT French, which often aims for “high and fast!”  Though culinary education is now more inclusive and not so heavily French, we have a strong cultural bias away from slow, leisurely cooking due to the strong French influence of the past decades.  There are exceptions however, largely based on strong regional traditions, barbecue, for example.  But for the most part, mainstream America, and certainly mainstream American food and cooking publications, just don’t “get” low and slow.


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There are some foods that don’t benefit from low and slow, at least when cooked traditionally; steaks for instance.  My mother’s approach to these was that they should be well done, even though that state was achieved quickly.  In our house steaks were most often seasoned with olive oil, garlic, oregano, basil, salt and pepper and broiled.  I think it’s a wonderful flavor combination.  But it wasn’t until my late teens that I developed an appreciation for rare beef.

I remember one meal where my sister and I cooked the steaks for ourselves and our dad.  They were medium rare, as I recall.  Even though our mom didn’t have a hand in cooking them (and cooked her own steak well done) she spent the entire meal feeling like she had served us bad food.  The fact that we liked it didn’t seem to matter.  She had very definite opinions about what constituted good food, and something that was bleeding onto the plate didn’t fit!


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


Recently I bought sous vide equipment.  I haven’t tried it yet but I’m itching to do so.  Steaks will be first.  The food gets vacuum sealed and then cooked slowly…for hours…in a hot water bath that is maintained at the temperature one wants the food to achieve.  The meat is cooked uniformly throughout…low and slow!  For steaks, one would want to quickly sear the outside before serving but many foods, like fish, poached eggs, and even hollandaise sauce can be used right out of the water bath.

For now, though, let’s try a slow-cooked pot of beans and greens…Italian style!!

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Roman Beans and Kale
The beans should be cooked through but not falling apart. The kale should take on a silky texture but not be mushy. The pasta should still be a bit “toothy." This is even better if made a day or two in advance and refrigerated. If you are doing this, you will want to undercook the pasta so that it is not too soft after the dish is reheated for serving. Alternately, you can omit the pasta when mixing the beans and kale, then add it when reheating. Depending on where you live, you might not be able to find Roman beans. Roman beans are also called Cranberry or Borlotti beans. If you can’t find Roman beans, you can substitute Pinto or Anasazi beans.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 1/2 hours
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 1/2 hours
Servings
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Instructions
  1. Rinse and pick over the beans.
  2. Cover the beans with six cups of water.
  3. Simmer the beans until almost fully cooked, adding 2 teaspoons of salt and black pepper to taste after the beans have cooked for an hour. If necessary, add a bit of boiling water from time to time to keep the beans just submerged. The beans will cook for about 10-15 minutes more after the kale is added so don't overcook them.
  4. Meanwhile, cut out the center ribs of the kale.
  5. Kale ribs about to be discarded.
  6. Cut the leaves crosswise into large pieces.
  7. Rinse and drain the kale.
  8. Bring a quart of salted water to a boil.
  9. Add the kale. The kale should quickly wilt enough to be covered by water. If not add a bit more water to just cover the kale.
  10. Simmer the kale, covered, stirring occasionally, until cooked to a silky texture, approximately 1 hour.
  11. While the kale is cooking, crush the garlic with the side of a chef's knife.
  12. Slowly brown the garlic in the olive oil.
  13. Once the garlic has browned, remove the oil from the heat. Discard the garlic. Reserve the garlic-infused oil.
  14. If using pasta, bring two quarts of water seasoned with 1/4 cup of salt to a rolling boil.
  15. When the pasta-cooking water comes to a boil, add the pasta. At the same time, add the kale and its cooking water to the beans. Keep the beans and kale at a simmer.
  16. Cook the pasta in boiling water until it is still a little crunchy on the inside.
  17. Drain the pasta and add it to the pot with the beans and kale.
  18. Add the garlic-infused oil.
  19. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  20. Cook everything, uncovered, until the pasta is al dente, just a few minutes longer.
  21. Serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2018 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Cuban Black Beans

December 1, 2017

Black beans are ubiquitous on tables in Cuba.

Getting beans to the right texture and the liquid to the right thickness is almost an art form.

Food is scarce in Cuba…at least if you’re a Cuban paying in Cuban Pesos. Not so much if you’re paying in CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos), which is what foreigners use. The CUC is pegged to the US Dollar but if you change Dollars for CUCs you pay a 10% penalty as opposed to exchanging another currency, say the Euro, for CUCs.


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Prices in Cuban Pesos at a locals’ only market

One view of a locals’ only market
Another view of a locals’ only market

I visited a butcher shop in Havana which pretty much now only sells chicken; when chicken is available, that is. If you notice the door to the cooler is open. That’s because the cooler isn’t on because there’s no inventory.

A butcher shop in Havana

The butcher is just waiting around for chicken to arrive.

When that chicken does arrive, it will likely be frozen Tyson chicken from the United States. Even though, when this picture was taken, the US embargo of Cuba was in full force.

Most of the chicken in Cuba is frozen Tyson chicken from the United States

The same is true of hot sauce. If one asks for hot sauce at a restaurant in Cuba one is likely to get a bottle of Tabasco shipped in from Avery Island, Louisiana. Clearly there are exceptions to the embargo for some American companies!

If you pay in CUCs, the food available increases dramatically.

One stall in a multi-vendor market where prices are denominated in CUCs
Another stall in the same market
Locally prepared beverages in the CUC-denominated market

The disparity in prices for food purchased with Pesos vs CUCs is so large that average Cubans cannot afford to buy food with CUCs, even if they can get them. It takes 25 Cuban Pesos to buy one CUC. Paying in Pesos limits one to shopping in pretty-much locals’ only stores, with limited inventory where the products, like rice and beans, are sold at subsidized prices.

Rum is widely available regardless of the currency.  You’ll pay more if you’re a foreigner, however.

Havana Club is a popular brand of rum in Cuba
A well-stocked bar ready for the day’s customers
Cuban cigars for sale at the bar

After returning from the trip to Cuba in 2014, I tried but couldn’t get the texture of my “Cuban” black beans right. But then, my mother-in-law got a recipe from Beatriz (Betty) Scannapieco. Betty is from Cuba. She was in the exercise group my in-laws attend. Betty’s recipe, using a pressure cooker as is common in Cuba, works like a dream. It’s really pretty effortless, too. The green pepper, onion, and garlic add tremendous flavor but are removed after cooking leaving just beans and the silky cooking liquid.

I made three changes to Betty’s recipe. She called for 1 teaspoon of white wine. I use 1 tablespoon. Betty didn’t use tomato paste or black pepper but both are common ingredients in many Cuban black bean recipes.


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Cuban Black Beans
This recipe came from Beatriz (Betty) Scannapieco in my in-law’s exercise group. Betty is from Cuba. I added the tomato paste and black pepper to Betty’s recipe. I also increased the wine from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon. It can be challenging to get the bell pepper, onion, and garlic out of the beans as they very soft after cooking. If you want to make it easier, you could tie them in cheesecloth.
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Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/4 hours
Servings
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Ingredients
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/4 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
  1. Wash the beans.
  2. Cover beans with water by a couple of inches and soak overnight in the refrigerator.
  3. The next day, cut the bell pepper in half and remove ribs and seeds.
  4. Cut the onion into 4 or 6 wedges, but do not cut the whole way through the root end.
  5. Bruise the garlic by laying the blade of a chef's knife on top and gently pounding the knife blade.
  6. Drain the beans. Put the beans in a pressure cooker along with 3 ¼ cups of fresh water.
  7. Bring the beans to a boil, uncovered.
  8. Skim the foam from the beans then remove the pot from heat.
  9. Add the green pepper, onion, garlic and bay leaves to the beans.
  10. Put the lid on the pressure cooker and bring to 10 pounds pressure.
  11. Reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes.
  12. Remove the pressure cooker from heat and allow pressure to dissipate naturally.
  13. Uncover the pressure cooker.
  14. Add the olive oil, tomato paste (if using), wine, vinegar, salt and black pepper (if using).
  15. Bring to a boil uncovered and boil for 5 minutes.
  16. Remove from heat. Cool slightly and remove bell pepper, onion, bay leaves, and garlic.
  17. The beans can be served immediately but are better if refrigerated overnight.
  18. Serve the beans in a shallow bowl with pieces of finely diced raw onion in the center. Black beans are customarily accompanied by white rice.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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