Wednesday, December 16, 2009
When the weather gets damp and cold like it has been in San Francisco lately, it makes me think of a winter visit to Panzano, a spot on the map smack-dab in the middle of Chianti.
Some of you have probably noticed that Panzano has changed over the years. There's a lot more English spoken now. This might be partly due to Dario, the now famous butcher, whose operatic voice echoes into the street, and draws everyone inside where the aromas of garlic, herbs and peppers seduce you. You've got to sample his incredible salumi, porcetta and sweet and hot pepper jelly along with a glass of his homemade red wine.
Years ago, I always enjoyed visiting Dulio too. He's the little guy who owned the shoe-box of a wine store. I looked for him a while back and noticed he closed up shop. Whenever I used to visit Panzano, I always loved having lunch with my favorite pal, Giovanni Capelli. Judy Francini, the best and most generous Tuscan resource in the universe, introduced me to him years ago. I remember telling Judy I thought he was the Tuscan version of James Beard. He passed away a couple years ago which was a great loss to many of us. A true Renaissance man,-- he grew, produced and cooked the most innovative as well as traditional Tuscan food and products. Giovanni made salsa di mosto, a Balsamic-like vinegar, aged for 12 years in a variety of wooden casks and called salsa di mosto because it was made in Tuscany and not in the region of Modena where balsamic comes is made. I remember one particular summer he went crazy with peppers and turned out little jars of fiery hot pepper sauce called salsa inferno. He also made lemon-infused virgin olive oil, hard-to resist rose petal vinegar, Grappa di Chianti Classico Riserva, Liqueur di Limone, and Amaro plus his gutsy Chianti wines which paired perfectly with the food from his farmhouse trattoria, Trattoria del Montagliari.
One of the last times I had lunch with him, it was a cold and rainy day, kind of like this San Francisco day. He made me a delicious and heartwarming bowl of ribollita, a peasant soup made of leftover vegetables, bread and cannellini beans, later reboiled. He drizzled the top with his fruity virgin olive oil and then asked me if I wanted a fork or a spoon, it was that thick! "Pour me a glass of your red wine, would you Giovanni?"
If you can get some black cabbage or cavolo nero, all the better!
1 1/4 cups cannellini beans
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 oz. pancetta, 1/4" dice
½ stalk celery, 1/4" dice
3 carrots, peeled, ½" dice
½ head Savoy cabbage or cavolo nero, 1" dice
1 leek, ½" dice
3 potatoes, ½" dice
1 onion 1/4" dice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
6 thin slices coarse-textured white bread
salt and freshly ground pepper
fruity extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Pick over the beans and discard any stones. Soak the beans in a large bowl of water for four hours. Drain the beans, place in a saucepan and cover with water by 2-inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer until tender, 45 to 60 minutes. Strain the beans and reserve the cooking liquid. Reserve half of the beans. Place the remaining beans in the blender or food processor and process until smooth, adding bean liquid as necessary. Reserve.
Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta is light golden, 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, cabbage, leeks, potatoes, onions, tomato paste and cover by 1" with the chicken stock and water. Simmer until the vegetables are very soft, 1 hour.
Add the beans and simmer 5 minutes. Add the bread and stir together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool one hour or overnight.
To serve, bring to a boil. Serve immediately drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with cheese.
Serves 6 to 8