The area around our nearest lake – Trasimeno – is well known for its beans, and has been since time immemorial. The fagiolina del lago (aka fagiolo risina) is a tiny white bean; the fagiolo zolfino, which is common in parts of Tuscany too, is slightly larger and the palest of yellows. Its skin is particularly thin, giving it a reputation for being more digestible than most other legumes. Its lovely buttery taste and waxy consistency make it delicious, either as an antipasto or the main act in a lunchtime snack.
Zolfino beans – 400 g cooked weight
Salted anchovies – 7-8
Onions – 2 large
Celery – 6 ribs
Thyme – small sprig
Parsley – small sprig
Sorrel – 2-3 leaves
This salad can, naturally, be made with other types of beans: small haricot beans will do but make sure that they are cooked so that they remain whole rather than dissolving into mush; small chickpeas too are fine, though the end result tastes quite different. Zolfini are good at keeping their shape and their slightly waxy consistency; if you can find this variety and are cooking them from scratch, you’ll need about 250 g dried weight, which should be brought to the boil in a saucepan in lots of water with a pinch of bi-carb soda (not salt – this will slow down the softening process), left with the lid on to cool overnight, then cooked briefly again the following day until they’re the right consistency. Drain them well before use.
Slice the onion into very thin rounds, and the celery into pieces no more than 3-4mm thick. Put both of these in a frying pan with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Fry them gently until the onions start to turn slightly brown.
If you’re using salted anchovies, carefully scrape off any scales or bits of bone still clinging to the fish and rinse them very well to remove as much salt as possible; pat them dry. If, on the other hand, you are having to resort to anchovies in oil, you might need slightly more fillets than the quantity given above. Whichever you’re using, cut them into small pieces.
Now mince the thyme, parsley and – if you can find it – sorrel finely. This last gives the salad a slightly lemony tang.
In a large bowl, mix the beans (which can still be slightly warm; ditto the onions) with the rest of the ingredients and another couple of tablespoons of oil. Taste the salad: if you haven’t used sorrel, you may feel like it could do with a small squeeze of lemon or a dash of balsamic vinegar. But these are not strictly necessary.
This salad can be used to top a bruschetta: rub the toasted slices of bread with a peeled clove of raw garlic and drizzle it with oil, then pile the beans on top. Or it can be arranged on a lettuce leaf and served as is.
© Anne Hanley, 2013