Put the beans in a bowl, cover them with cold water and leave to soak for at least 12 hours. When you’re ready to cook them, strain off the water and transfer the beans into a “fiasco” (the typical bottle once used for Chianti wine) without its straw covering. Add the oil, the whole cloves of garlic, sage, salt and pepper, then pour in warm water until the bottle is ¾ full. Close the neck with a wad of cotton wool, well pressed in and tied up with string (don’t use a cork) and put the fiasco on top of a pile of ash mixed with glowing embers in front of the fire in the fireplace. While the beans are cooking, which will take a long time (2-4 hours according to their size), turn the flask around so they cook evenly all over.
When the beans are cooked and all of the liquid has been absorbed, tip them into a large bowl and season with a drizzle of olive oil and some more pepper (preferably freshly ground).
When preparing this dish, you should pay attention to two important things: - 1) the fiasco must be of blown glass and, if possible, have a wide neck opening; manufactured flasks, made from two halves joined together, may split apart in the heat, so if you can’t find the right kind it’s better to use a terracotta cooking pot known as a “fagioliera” (= bean cooking pot); 2) don’t use large beans, because when cooked they increase in volume and won’t come out through the neck of the fiasco.
This is a recipe from “days gone by”, when the heat for cooking any meal was that of the fireplace, when cooking times lasted for hours and hours, when there was always a grandmother or an aunt in the house to look after the pans, the fire and... the children. It’s an experience to cook such a dish, at least once, and its flavour is truly unforgettable.