Art, Florence and Beans

Midst all the opulent and overly ornate works of art from the Baroque period, hangs a modest but well-known painting,¬†Il Mangiafagioli, by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), depicting a quotidian scene, a peasant sitting down to a simple lunch of bean soup, onions, bread, a vegetable pie and a jug of red wine. The Beaneater is as Florentine as Brunelleschi’s dome, given that the Florentines¬†were often called by the taunt, ‘beaneaters,’ especially in bygone days.

The painting captures that moment when¬†‘the peasant is just raising a spoonful of beans to his lips, only to stop, surprised, by the intrusion of the viewer’, and in one sense, it is remarkably like a modern photo, a snapshot of a working class¬†scene. At the same time, the table setting could be the work of an early food stylist. In modern times, food stylists bombard our senses and shape our taste from every media quarter. Note the crisp white linen and the well composed meal, the wine on the table and the strategically placed bread. You would expect to see a rustic wooden table in this naturalistic vignette, something that the modern food stylist would prefer too. (Have wooden planks used as food styling props become clich√©d yet and why is good linen shunned in the modern world?) This bean eating peasant has a fine knife and glassware, a generous jug of wine and serve of bread. Perhaps he is an upwardly mobile peasant of the 1590s about to become a member of the white meat-eating class, despite the dirt under his nails.

 Interestingly, up until modern times, beans were regarded as peasant food,

‘Social codes in Baroque Italy extended as far as to food. According to contemporary thinkers, foodstuffs like beans and onions, which are dark in color and grow low to the ground, were suitable only for similarly lowly consumers, like peasants.¬Ļ

If this Beaneater’s repast were placed before me today, I would be overjoyed and would probably pay dearly for it too, as I once did, at the delightful restaurant, Il Pozzo, in Monteriggione, Tuscany, where a bowl of bean filled Ribollita,¬†served with a side of raw onions and good Tuscan bread cost me a large wad of lire.¬†Other than the price, the meal hardly differed from the one depicted in Carracci’s painting of 1590. Things don’t change much over the centuries in Italy, a conservative country, particularly when it comes to food, recipes and styling.

Il Mangiafagioli Australiano
Il Mangiafagioli Australiano senza la torta verde. Poveretto!

This modern-day beaneater, Mr Tranquillo, was bribed with a bottle of Yering¬†Sangiovese 2010, to pose for this ‘painting’. A bowl of bean soup, good bread and a glass of wine is a lunchtime reward for hard work.

 How to cook dried white beans and eat well for one dollar.

This recipe will give you enough cooked beans for a very large soup for a crowd or enough to divide and freeze for later soups or dips.

500g dried cannellini beans
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled but whole
4-5 sage leaves, and/or a small branch of rosemary.
60 ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
2 teaspoons or more of salt

  • Place the beans in a very large bowl with plenty of cold water. Leave to soak for at least 8 hours or overnight.
  • Drain the beans and place in a heavy-based saucepan or cast iron pot with the garlic, herbs, olive oil and 2.5 litres of water.
  • Bring to a simmer on the lowest heat setting and cook, covered, very gently until the beans are tender. Do not add salt and do not boil. Salt hardens beans and prevents them from softening and boiling splits the beans.
  • Remove any scum that rises to the top of the water. When the beans are soft and the cooking water is creamy, add the salt and some freshly ground pepper towards the end of the cooking. Test and adjust seasoning. Depending on the age of the beans, this could take two or more hours with slow cooking.
  • Use the beans to make a simple cannellini bean soup. Start with a¬†soffritto of finely chopped onion, carrot and celery cooked gently in olive oil,¬†then when softened, add some vegetable stock and cook for 10 minutes. Add the cooked beans and creamy cooking water. Heat for a further 5 minutes, taste and season. Consider pureeing half the mixture with a stick blender and return the puree to the pot. Serve in a deep bowl over grilled slightly stale sourdough bread and drizzle some good oil on top.

¬Ļhttp://www.artble.com/artists/annibale_carracci/paintings/the_bean_eater

L’impostore ed ll Mangiafagioli¬†

Winter Tricks In My Kitchen, July 2016

Winter time and the living is Рexpensive. Electricity prices have increased at nearly four times the rate of inflation over the last 5 years and will probably continue to do so. One solution to the soaring power bills stemming from heating, lighting and the immoderate use of the oven, is to run away to a warmer place, preferably somewhere in Asia, where the living is cheaper and the climate is tropical. Another is to stay cocooned in a doona all day, watching  addictive Icelandic Noir drama series that makes the Australian winter look tropical. Then, like many others, you could traipse around a heated shopping centre all day, drinking coffee and playing with your smart phone. Or you could make a conscious effort to adopt some energy saving routines, at least when it comes to routines in the kitchen. This post is a reminder to myself about energy use.

Foccaccia con Zucca e Cipolle

  • After baking, use the residual heat of the oven to make other basic things for the week.
  • Boiling water is a huge energy waster. Fill up a Chinese thermos with green tea.
  • Always cook too many beans. Finding a stash of pre-cooked cannellini and borlotti beans or chick peas in a zip lock bag in the freezer is like finding a golden nugget. Soup making ¬†becomes a breeze. Two of my winter favourite ¬†bean based soups can be found here and here.
  • Add barley to root vegetable soups. What is it about Barley Soup that warms us up, both physically and emotionally?
  • If you have just split open a large pumpkin and are baking chunks for a recipe, double the quantity and store the leftovers in a covered bowl in the fridge. Stuff the pieces, along with fetta and herbs, into filo pastry triangles, add them to a risotto, use them with cooked lentils in a pastie, or toss them through barley to make a winter salad with spinach and nuts. Or head to Ottolenghi land and make this¬†or this.

    filo pastry with baked pumpkin, goats cheese, herbs, honey drizzle.
    Filo pastry with baked pumpkin, goat’s fetta, herbs, honey drizzle.
  • Always double the pizza dough, whatever quantity you decide to make. Most weeks I make a 500g batch of yeasted pizza dough using¬†this recipe.¬†If the hungry hordes don’t visit, I stretch and shape half the risen dough to make one 35 cm pizza, more than enough for two hungry people, then stash the other half in a zip lock bag in the freezer. Then it’s simply a matter of defrosting the dough, bringing it back to room temperature, and shaping it into a slice baking tin, allowing for another short rise, before dimpling the top with oil, salt and herbs or other leftovers.
Left over dough becomes tomorrow’s foccaccia.

Pumpkin, Red Onion and Sage Foccaccia

  • risen dough, made from 250 gr baker’s white flour
  • EV olive oil
  • one red onion finely sliced
  • 1 cup pre- roasted diced pumpkin
  • sage leaves
  • coarsely ground sea salt

Preheat oven 200 c FF. Oil a small slab tin ( 26 cm X 17 cm) and stretch the dough to roughly fit. Leave for 30 minutes or more, covered with a tea towel. Push the dough into the corners of the tin and using your fingers, make small indentations in the dough to carry the oil and salt. Brush on a generous amount of olive oil, letting it pool a little in the indentations. Spread on the finely cut onions, then the pumpkin, then some sage leaves, then plenty of coarsely ground salt. Bake for around 15 minutes, check on the colour of top and bottom, and cook a further 5 minutes if needed.

This month, Maureen is taking a break from hosting In My Kitchen, but the series still goes on. Below you can find an informal link up to some other IMK posts for this month:

Celia        https://figjamandlimecordial.com/2016/07/01/in-my-kitchen-july-2016/

Amanda http://www.lambsearsandhoney.com/2016/07/in-my-kitchen-july-2016/

Sandra https://pleasepasstherecipe.com/2016/07/01/june-in-my-kitchen/

Fiona http://www.tiffinbitesized.com.au/2016/07/01/in-my-kitchen-july-2016/

Josephine https://napolirestaurantalert.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/in-my-kitchen-july-2016/

Liz    http://www.bizzylizzysgoodthings.com/blog

http://www.bitesizedthoughts.com/2016/07/in-my-kitchen-july-2016.html

Debi https://americanfoodieabroad.wordpress.com/

Johanna http://gggiraffe.blogspot.com.au/2016/07/in-my-kitchen-july-2016.html

Shaheen  http://allotment2kitchen.blogspot.com.au/2016/07/red-lentil-pasta-and-edible-crystals-in.html

Mae http://maefood.blogspot.com.au/2016/07/things-that-give-me-joy-in-my-kitchen.html

Lisa http://www.withafork.com/2016/07/whats-in-my-kitchen-july-2016.html