While Andrea Camilleri is probably the most famous contemporary Italian author of mystery novels, he is certainly not the only one. Among the good number of writers who have created engaging characters in recent years, Antonio Manzini is one of my favorites. Four of his novels have been translated into English, all featuring Deputy Police Chief Rocco Schiavone1: Black Run, Adam's Rib (aka Cold Death), Out of Season, Spring Cleaning (four more have been published in Italian, plus two volumes of short stories).
In the first novel of the series, we meet Rocco Schiavone, in exile from his native Rome to Aosta (capital of the Alpine region of Val d'Aosta, in the northwestern corner of Italy) as punishment for actions that come to light slowly in the course of the novels. Schiavone is a widower, still mourning the death of his wife, whom he "sees" often and with whom he has imaginary conversations. He dislikes Aosta, a city the polar opposite of his native one: he hates its cold, dampness and darkness, but he is still able to focus on his detective work, at which, although with methods often unorthodox, he excels.
As a side note, in the novel The Other End of the Line, Andrea Camilleri pays homage to his young pupil by having Montalbano say that he is reading a Rocco Schiavone novel.
Schiavone does not have an Adelina in his life and his cooking skills are limited, so my dish was inspired not so much by something mentioned in the novels, as by the wish to prepare something Roman-style for their protagonist. The sight at the Berkeley farmers' market of several varieties of fresh beans, out of which I chose to try Coco Bianco2, plus the availability of Early Girl tomatoes, suggested pasta e fagioli alla romana to me. I prepared the beans in tomato sauce without pasta.
Known in Italy as Cocco Bianco (white coconut), these heirloom beans are prized for their thin skin and delicate flavor. (They are grown also in my home region of Umbria.) As the season of fresh beans is short, if you are curious about trying them, they are available dried as well. The recipe can be made with other varieties of fresh beans (for example, the French variety Coco de Paimpol, which I purchased from the same farmer), adjusting the cooking time as needed.
- 1 pound fresh Coco Bianco beans, about 9 ounces / 255 g shelled
- 2 cups / 475 ml water
- 2 small garlic cloves, peeled
- A small bay leaf
- A 1-inch / 2.5 cm piece of kombu (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 pound / 8 ounces / 225 g small tomatoes good for sauce (Early Girl, grape or other variety)
- 2 tablespoons / 30 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup minced onion
- 2 tablespoons minced celery
- 2 tablespoons minced carrot
- 1/8 teaspoon Harissa spice mix, optional
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
- Additional extra-virgin olive oil for serving
Shell the beans.
Place the beans in a saucepan with the water, garlic, bay leaf, kombu (if using) and salt. Bring the water to a lively boil, then turn down the heat and let the beans simmer, covered, until they are tender. Taste them after 20 minutes and estimate if/how much longer they should cook.
Let the beans cool in their cooking broth, then remove the aromatics and discard them. Let the beans rest in their broth until ready to use.
Cut each tomato in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 4-6 slices lengthwise, depending on size (the smaller the pieces, the better).
Warm up the olive oil in a saucepan, add the onion and stir well. After one minute, add the celery and carrot, stir well and cook on medium-low heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes. If using, sprinkle the Harissa spice mix and stir.
Add the tomatoes to the pan, turn up the heat to medium, stir well, then turn down the heat to low, cover and cook, stirring often, until you have a tomato sauce, 15 minutes or so.
Drain the beans, then add them and 1/2 cup / 120 ml of their cooking liquid to the pan. (Depending on how you plan to serve the beans, you may add all the cooking liquid: that is what I do, to obtain a soupy dish.) Stir well and cover. Cook for 5 minutes, sprinkle the salt, stir well.
Take the pan off the heat, taste and adjust the salt.
After plating, drizzle some olive oil on the beans and serve immediately.
These beans can be eaten as is or enriched with pasta or paired with cooked sausage or in any number of other ways.
1 List of Manzini's novels featuring Rocco Schiavone translated into English to date
2 Thanks to La Tercera farm in Bolinas for growing special produce
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the fagioli freschi al pomodoro fresco audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
This is my last contribution to the 37th edition of Novel Food, the literary/culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and I started 12 years ago and that I continue to host.
FTC disclosure: I have received the table linen free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.