Several months ago my husband and I were visiting friends in New York City and they insisted on taking us to Eataly. My friend, a very stylish Italian woman and exceptional cook also happens to be the person responsible for teaching me to make risotto several years ago. When she tells me that there is an extraordinary Italian market that is an absolute must to visit, I have to take her word for it. It also happens to be one of her son's favorite spots, and at 14 years of age, he is quite a cook himself.
So on our last day in the city, we all went on a foodie field trip to Eataly. It far exceeded any expectation I might have had. Going there has to be one of my favorite food experiences I have had in recent times. I don't know how to describe it other than that it is an extremely large food hall stocked with a selection of the best of almost everything edible from Italy. In addition to the vast selection of dry, canned, jarred, and bottled goods, there is a bakery, a butcher, a fishmonger, fresh pasta being made, stunning fresh vegetables, cheeses, coffees, chocolates and candies, books and more. There are also several dining options that include cafes and bars specializing in pizza, pasta, charcuterie, and vegetarian dishes.
Needless to say, it was delightfully overwhelming. I purchased an array of things to bring back to Los Angeles that I have not seen before. Among them were brown rice carnaroli for risotto, an assortment of truffle pastes, tapenades, fregola (a toasted pasta similar to Israeli couscous), and all sorts of dried beans I had not heard of before. Among the beans I brought home was one called Occhiolina from a boutique Italian company called La Valletta that is dedicated to the preservation of plants native to the Colfiorito Plateau in Umbria. As I said, I only bought things that I had never come across before and I purchased several types of beans since they have such an extensive shelf life.
Last week I made the Occhiolina beans. What can I say? They were outstanding. Since I was trying them for the first time, I did not want to mask the flavor or texture of the beans so I made them in a simple straightforward way with a basic mirepoix of vegetables; a classic combination of onion, celery, and carrots. I know that finding them is not an option for everyone and Eataly doesn't have an on-line catalogue, but other firm small white beans would work equally well for this recipe. I might suggest flageolet beans or even cannellini. If you are interested in trying beans from La Valletta, there are several products currently available through Amazon.
As a food tourist, I will look forward to the next time I go to New York not only to visit my friends but to also take another trip to Eataly and restock my pantry with more yet to be discovered treats. I will also make sure to reserve more time in my schedule so I can try one of Eataly's eateries that I missed the first time around.
|Occhiolina Beans with a Aromatic Vegetables
|For all of the ingredients, please use only those that are organic or pesticide free.
|occhiolina beans, falgeolet, cannellini, or navy will work fine
|sweet onion, peeled and cut into quarters
|garlic cloves, unpeeled
|celery stalks, cut into thirds
|sweet onion, thinly slice
|carrots, peeled and sliced into thin coins
|celery stalks, thinly sliced
|fresh thyme leaves
|sea salt or flaky finishing salt such at maldon or Himalayan
|freshly ground black pepper
|extra virgin olive oil
|Prepare the beans
|Rinse and pick through the dry beans. Remove any small stones or beans that appear unseemly.
|Put the beans in a large bowl and cover with purified water. Allow to soak for at least 8 hours or overnight.
|During the soaking time, the beans will have absorbed most of the water and will have plumped considerably. Drain the beans in a colander.
|Transfer the beans to a large sauce pan or dutch oven and cover with fresh purified water by about 2 inches. Set over high heat.
|Add the onion, garlic, celery, and bay leaf to the beans and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking until the beans are tender. This should take 60-90 minutes. Skim off any foam that comes to the surface during cooking and add water if necessary. When the beans are fully cooked, there should be a scant amount of liquid remaining in the pot.
|When the beans are nearly finished cooking, go ahead and add the salt. Start with about 1/2 teaspoon and add more as needed. I used a bit less than 2 teaspoons.
|Cool to room temperature. Remove the vegetables from the beans.
|Prepare the mirepoix
|Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan set over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes stirring frequently to prevent them from burning.
|Add the carrots and celery and continue to saute for another 10-15 minutes until they are fork tender. Season with sea salt and pepper and allow to cool to room temperature.
|Add the cooled mirepoix to the cooled and seasoned beans along with about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Gently stir to combine.
|Serve at room temperature, cold, or warm with anything you desire or completely on its own.