Fagioli zolfini al forno

(= Oven Cooked Zolfini Beans)

Ingredients for 5 people:500 g Zolfini beans (if you can’t find them, Cannellini beans are ok too)4 white onions (approx. 350 g)1 clove of garlic½ jar white wine3-4 sage leaves4 glasses water7-8 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (plus 3 “raw” after cooking) salt and pepper

Clean the onions and then slice them, not too thinly. Put the slices in a baking tin with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook in a preheated oven, at 200 °C, for roughly 15-20 minutes until soft and translucent. Rinse the beans and tip them into the tin with the onion. Add the clove of garlic “in camicia” (literally “with its shirt on”, simply crushed with the palm of your hand, without removing the skin), sage, white wine and water (previously heated). Season with salt, stir thoroughly and put the tin back in the oven, still at 200 °C. While the beans are cooking, pull the tin out from time to time, stir, and if there’s not much water left, add a little (always hot): during the first hour, the water should almost cover the beans. After 2 - 2½ hours, taste them to see if they’re cooked.

If you prefer you can soak the beans for 6-7 hours beforehand, so they cook quicker (after 1-1½ hours in the oven they should be ready). Serve them hot with a drizzle of “raw” olive oil on top.

“Zolfini” beans, which aren’t widely known even in the rest of Tuscany, have an unmistakeable flavour and distinctive appearance. Smaller than white Canellini beans and almost round; their characteristic shade of straw, or sulphur yellow, distinguishes them and gives them their name (“zolfo” means sulphur in Italian). Their skin is different too, it’s thinner. Another curiosity about Zolfini: they’re also known as “hundred beans” because they are sown on the 100th day of the year. Originating from the Pratomagno mountains, until about twenty years ago just a few farmers in the hills around Loro Ciuffenna cultivated these legumes, which were in danger of disappearing. Rediscovered and re-evaluated in recent years, they have now achieved PGI status. In the village of Penna, near to Loro Ciuffenna, each year in spring there is a festival dedicated to Zolfini.