August 22, 2011

Pasta With Cranberry Bean, Sage, and Rosemary Sauce

When we cook from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking, we feel like we know Marcella. We feel like we have an Italian grandmother, and that she is standing there in our kitchen, looking over our shoulders as we chop herbs, making sure that our gnocchi have the right texture, and peering into our pots of pasta sauce. We refer to recipes as though she has spoken directly to us: "Marcella says that this sauce would be best with rigatoni," or "Marcella thinks that it's best not to use eggs in the gnocchi dough." 

In short, this is an excellent book, and this is one of our favorite recipes (granted, it's a large book and there are many recipes we haven't tried yet). Marcella says that the dish comes from a particular restaurant, a trattoria owned by the Dalla Rosa in San Giorgio, and that the name of the dish is embogoné, which probably comes from a local word for snails (bogoni). The idea is that the beans cooking in the skillet look a little bit like snails. In fact, it's definitely true that this dish is neither beautiful nor photogenic, but it really doesn't matter because it is delicious.

I remember seeing cranberry beans for the first time at a farmers' market shortly after moving to Monterey. They come in beautiful shells swirled with red and white; the beans inside are the same color (though when you cook them they turn sort of gray - hence the snail comparison). They come into season in the summer, and I always get excited when I see them appear at the market for the first time. If you can't get ahold of fresh cranberry beans, or want to make this dish out of season, dried or canned white beans, red kidney beans, cannellini beans, or other similar beans would make a good substitute.

Embogoné - Cranberry Beans, Sage, and Rosemary Sauce (serves 2)
Adapted from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

- 1 lb fresh unshelled cranberry beans (or 3/4 cup canned or cooked dried beans)
- 2 tbsp finely chopped pancetta (about 1/8 lb)
- Olive oil (about 1 tbsp)
- 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp fresh sage leaves, finely chopped (or 1/4 tsp dried)
- 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped (or 1/4 tsp dried)
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Your choice of pasta: Marcella recommends fresh pappardelle; we have also used fusilli and were very happy with it (you want something that the sauce can really wrap itself around)

Shell the cranberry beans and put them in a pot with enough water to cover them by two inches. Put the lid on the pot, bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender and not mealy (about an hour). Drain the beans but save the liquid that they cooked in - you will need it later.

Put about 2 tsp of olive oil in a large skillet and heat it over medium high heat. Add the pancetta and onion and cook until the onion is soft and translucent and the pancetta has started to become a little crisp. Add the garlic, sage, and rosemary, and cook for another minute. Turn the heat down to low.

Put the beans in the pan and use the back of a spoon or spatula to mash most of them (about 3/4). Add about 1/4 cup of the bean cooking liquid to the pot to make the sauce thinner; add more until you reach the consistency that you desire. Season with salt and pepper.

Drain the pasta and toss it in the skillet with the sauce. Serve the pasta, topped with the fresh parmesan cheese and a final drizzle of olive oil.

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