During my recent trip to Umbria for our Bike the Wine Roads of Umbria tour, and a few days in Tuscany afterward, I saw this dish on many a menu. It features two of Umbria’s favorite products, beans and sausage.
As I summarized on a recent post, beans have a predominate role on the tables of Tuscany and Umbria. Tuscans have been referred to as ‘bean eaters’ by other Italians. In Tuscany you will find simple white beans, fagioli al fiasco, which have been cooked in a flask, or fiasco. Farmers would fill the bottle with beans and water, and place them in the embers of the fire before retiring. In the morning, the beans would be cooked. Fiasco is also used to refer to the straw covered glass bottle traditionally used to bottle Chianti. So there, this dish would be Salsiccia con Fagioli al Fiasco.
In Umbria, I noticed many restaurants advertising one of Umbria’s favorite native beans, the Fagiolina di Trasimeno. These are very small elongated, cream colored beans that have been cultivated in this region since the time of the Etruscans. The moist soil and climate around the basin of Lake Trasimeno provide the ideal conditions for the cultivation of this particular variety of bean. We enjoyed a great ride out to the shores of Lake Trasimeno during our recent cycling tour.
As always, when I return home from Italy I recreate many of my favorite dishes. I purchased some wonderful store-made sausages for my own Salsiccia con Fagioli, and saw pork belly right nearby, so I decided to add another twist. You don’t see fresh pork belly, pancetta fresca, too much in Italy – usually it is cured and sold as pancetta. But my son ask after tasting it (skeptically) for the first time “Make this again. Often.” You can omit it, or substitute regular bacon or pancetta – you will not need to cook it as long as in the recipe below. I cooked the pork belly for a while to render a bit of the fat; bacon or pancetta will only need a few minutes.
Salsiccia e Pancetta Fresca con Fagioli
1 pound pork belly, cut lengthwise into 4 slices (or 8 slices bacon or 8 ounces chopped pancetta)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, 1/4 inch dice
1 carrot, 1/4 inch dice
1 stalk celery, peeled and 1/4 inch dice
1 clove garlic, minced
10 ounces dried beans, soaked in water overnight
3 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 1/2 pounds good quality sausage
Season pork belly with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the pork belly and cook over high heat until browned and crisp on all sides. Lower heat, and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes, until a good amount of the fat has rendered. The precise amount of time will depend upon how much fat is in the belly, and your personal preferences, so don’t be afraid to use your best judgement here!
Remove the pork belly from the pan. Pour off a bit of the fat if there is a lot in the pan. Return the pan to medium high heat, and add the onion, carrot, and celery. Sauté until soft and just beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook until just aromatic, about 1 minute.
Return the pork belly to the pan, and add the beans, chicken stock, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the beans are cooked, about 1 hours. This time, again, will depend upon the type, size, and age of your dried beans, so check occasionally, and add more liquid as needed.
While the beans are cooking, cook the sausages over medium high heat in another sauté pan. Remove from heat when just cooked through.
When the beans are tender, remove the bay leaves and thyme springs. If there remains too much liquid in the pan, turn the heat up and reduce. Add the sausages to reheat, adjust the seasoning, and serve with sautéed greens.