Put the dried beans (they should be good quality, not too large and from the most recent harvest; cannellini beans are not easy to come by) in a saucepan and cover them with cold water (for 400 g of beans you will need about 2 litres). Add the garlic, sage, olive oil and salt, and then put the pan on the stove over a very low heat (if necessary, reduce the heat even more while cooking). The water must boil, but imperceptibly; the beans mustn’t be “agitated”, in fact they should hardly move. It’s not easy to give a precise cooking time; it depends on the type of beans, on their “age”... but don’t worry, there’s a solution that’s always valid when cooking: taste them!
In the meanwhile, in terracotta pot or a heavy-bottomed steel saucepan, heat the oil with two cloves of garlic and the sage leaves. Sauté over a moderate heat, add the tomato concentrate diluted in half a glass of water, and the peeled tomatoes. Season with salt and cook the sauce for 10-15 minutes. Add the cooked and strained beans to the pot, season with salt, if necessary, and a sprinkling of pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer very slowly, stirring delicately, for another 10-15 minutes. The sauce should be thick and the beans cooked but not falling apart, and everything should be mixed together well.
Beans prepared “all’uccelletto” are rarely offered on their own. Normally they are served with meat (beef, chicken, rabbit or pork) stewed in tomato. “La loro morte” (= literally “their death”, meaning the best way to taste them), as we say around here, is with fresh pork sausages: when adding the tomato, we add one sausage per person (or two, for anyone particularly hungry). Then we let them cook, pricking the skin here and there with a fork, along with the tomato sauce. “Fagioli all’uccelletto”, especially in the version with sausages, are always met by applause from connoisseurs.
The curious “name” probably comes from the sage used in the recipe. This aromatic herb, which is widely used in our cuisine, was once considered essential when cooking small birds (“uccelletti” in Italian), whether roast, on a spit or stewed. Nowadays, for many (valid) reasons, dishes with small birds are rarely prepared and even hard to come by in restaurants; a Tuscan culinary tradition that is disappearing.