[Pantry] Pulses, the pantry protagonists
Recipes with beans, chickpeas, and lentils
Pulses were among the first themes that joined that list, as they are basic pantry staple ingredients, protagonists of traditional recipes, part of my family gastronomical traditions, and, more than other foods in the world, they can be delicious. FAO also declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses.
A few years ago I listened to a very interesting podcast from BBC Radio 4 – Food Program (my favourite podcast ever, you should listen to the episode on pizza), Raising the pulse, which opened my eyes to the importance of beans for humankind.
Pulses are the oldest and most global of our food, as legumes existed everywhere there were people. They were fundamental for the world’s greatest civilizations, as they make famine less probable: they are affordable and support human beings when other crop fails. Have you ever tried to feed a family with 2 euros of beans or 2 euros of meat? In the first case, they will leave the table happy and rolling.
Don Saladino also underlines how many exciting food cultures are dependent on pulses, mentioning Tuscany and how we usually define Florentine people, mangiafagioli, bean eaters.
Beans can be a source of pride and identity. Ribollita is a dish many Florentines would proudly fight for, as it the quintessential Tuscan winter food: it shows the imaginative use of stale bread, it testifies our love for beans, promoted to main course and not relegated to a simple side dish, it gives the cavolo nero a chance to shine through as traditional winter green but, mostly, it comforts you like a soft blanket on a cold night or your grandma’s hug.
In my family beans and chickpeas are part of the encoded traditions passed on from generation to generation. There are rules that must be respected, which call for rosemary with chickpeas and sage with beans. Do not dare cook them differently. Thus, you will find some rosemary needles floating in our passato di ceci, a velvety and comforting chickpea soup, while a few crisp sage leaves will match beans and sausages in a traditional winter dish, fagioli all’uccelletto.
Pulses are also food to celebrate togetherness and seasonality. During one of the meals of our first Three Acres Gathering, we served a bowl of beans cooked overnight in the wood-fired oven. We toasted some bread – not an average bread but the fragrant sourdough loaf made by Manuela the day before -, rubbed it with garlic and topped it with a spoonful of creamy beans. Oh, the richness of a bowl of bean cooked al fiasco, or in the oven, and seasoned just with the best extra virgin olive oil, salt and black pepper. A few paper-thin rounds of fresh onion are the only addition allowed.
Nowadays pulse consumption has gone down, people do not realize how affordable, versatile, good for them and the planet, sustainable they are. Pulses are also farmers’ friends, as they enrich the soil, fixing nitrogen back into the soil. We need to revaluate how delicious they can be. In the past pulses were considered food for poor people, eating beans was a social stigma, as you could not afford the most precious meat. But pulses are the key ingredients of some of the richest and most comforting dishes in the world.
Is there a kind of pulses that cannot miss in your pantry?
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Recipes with pulses from the blog archive
Chickpea and butternut squash soup
A few years ago, I found myself with a bowl of cold chickpeas and some butternut squash which screamed to be used as soon as possible. They married in a thick soup tinted in autumnal colours and since then this has been my go-to meal when I’m in a hurry and I need a comforting bowl of steaming soup to cheer up my day. Get the recipe here.
Chickpea crostoni, two ways
The first recipe was simple: just a slice of toasted bread, chickpeas and soppressata. I threw in also some thinly sliced orange zest, as orange is one of the aromas you can find in a soppressata. With the heat from the skillet, the orange releases its essence and makes it an even brighter dish. The second one has chickpeas and artichokes, with some fresh calamint. Calamint is a wild herb that usually grows next to the walls or in the fields. It teams up nicely with mushrooms in autumn and eggplants in summer. If you can not find it, replace it with wild mint. Lemon juice, which pairs beautifully with artichokes, makes the chickpeas livelier. Get the recipe here.
Pasta e lenticchie – Pasta with lentils
Lentils are a great source of protein and fibre, and they do not need overnight soaking, thus making them perfect for those who approach pulses for the first time, or for those who forget to write down their meal plan for the week (that’s me). If you need a real comfort food in a bowl, pair lentils with pasta, one of the quintessential dishes of the Italian cucina povera, and you’ll have a balanced, wholesome, warming soup in less than one hour. Get the recipe here.
Pasta e fagioli - Pasta and bean soup
Of the many pasta and pulse dishes in the Italian culinary tradition, something that unites the whole peninsula, from North to South, pasta e fagioli, the comforting bean and pasta soup, is perhaps my favourite. It is as basic in its preparation and ingredient list as it is rich and complex in its taste. A classic battuto, made of minced carrots, celery and onion, to begin, often enriched with a few pieces of pancetta – or even leftover ham rind to disguise the poverty of the dish -, then cannellini beans, or a local variety such as zolfini, a good pasta and a spoonful of tomato paste to give flavour and colour. Finish with a drizzle of raw extra virgin olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper. Get the recipe here.
Le polpette all’uccelletto – Sausage meatballs cooked in stewed beans
Fagioli all’uccelletto are perhaps one of the most iconic dishes of Tuscan cuisine: it has beans and sausages, cooked together over a gentle heat until the beans become creamy and the sausages do not release fat and flavour. This dish can be found in every Tuscan trattoria, sometimes as a filling side dish, others as a main course. I turned sausages into meatballs, I added crushed fennel seeds, I cooked everything together, then I invited some friends over. With this recipe I unleashed my desire for tradition, my nostalgia, and my irreverence. Get the recipe here.
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