Italy is this month’s destination over on My Kitchen, My World, and when I think Italy, I think sun, red ripe tomatoes combined with other market fresh ingredients in brightly flavored pasta dishes to go with warm, sunny climes. Too bad it’s one of those windy, rainy, winter in Seattle weeks outside my window right now.
Instead of tomatoes, I have hearty greens like this kale and escarole pictured above. Instead of market fresh ingredients, I have dried cannellini beans. No worries– this is when I have to force myself out of my ideal Italian meal picture and remember that the great thing about Italian cooking is how it moves with the seasons. With the wintery ingredients available to me, I still have the foundation for a beautiful yet hearty Italian meal.
I decided to make a white bean stew with chunks of crisped pancetta, flecks of fennel and celery for sweetness and ribbons of dark, slightly bitter greens for color and balance of flavors. Rosemary and sage were the herbs of choice, adding a woodsy backdrop to the hearty stew. To finish it off, I drizzled heaping bowls of my stew with some white truffle oil and topped them with garlicky, toasted croutons.
I honestly don’t know which was better– the aromas of sage and pancetta cooking (I want to make everything with this combination now!), the comforting heat and soft bubbling sounds while the stew cooked on the stove, or tucking into the stew itself, so soft and creamy, flavorful, and somehow light yet rib-stickisng at the same time. Make this while it’s cold and blustery outside and it’ll feel just like you’re dining at an Italian osteria.
- 1 lb dried cannellini beans, soaked over night in a pot filled with 4 quarts of water in which you’ve dissolved 3 tablespoons of table salt.
- 1/4 lb of thick sliced (about 1/4 inch) pancetta, diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chiffonade, divided
- 1 medium sweet onion, diced
- 1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 2 medium ribs of celery, diced
- 3 medium garlic cloves, chopped (about 2 teaspoons)
- 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock plus 4 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 medium bunch lacinato kale, leaves removed from stems and chopped
- 1 medium bunch escarole, chopped
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 loaf day old Italian or ciabatta bread, torn into 1 inch pieces
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 smashed garlic cloves
- salt and pepper
- white truffle oil
Heat olive oil in large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pancetta and 1/2 tablespoon of sage and cook until pancetta is crisped, about 15 minutes. Remove pancetta to a paper towel lined plate to drain and set aside. Pour off fat in pot, leaving about 2 tablespoons for cooking.
Add the onion, fennel, celery, and garlic and cook until softened, but not browned, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse beans then add them to the pot along with stock, water, bay leaf, rosemary, and remaining 1/2 tablespoon of sage. Bring to a boil then reduce heat, simmering for 1.5 hours. In the last 15 minutes of cooking, add the kale and escarole. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
After you’ve added the kale and escarole, make the croutons by heating olive oil with the smashed garlic cloves in a medium skillet over medium heat. Toast garlic on both sides until golden brown, being careful not to burn them then remove from the skillet and discard. Add the torn bread, tossing to coat in the hot oil and cook until toasted, about 10-12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Plate stew in bowls, topping with a sprinkle of pancetta, a handful of croutons, and a drizzle of truffle oil if you have it on hand.
CSA Count: 5
Sweet onion, fennel bulb, lacinato kale, escarole, garlic
Garden Count: 3
Rosemary, sage, bay leaf