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Swordfish Broiled with Tuscan Beans
By Charlie Burke

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Dried beans, cooked with olive oil, garlic and either rosemary or sage, are eaten all
over Tuscany, especially in Florence, where their preparation is taken very
seriously. One method even involves putting the beans into a glass flask and
simmering it in barely boiling water, and families with variations of the basic
recipe invariably consider theirs to be authentic.

This preparation is quite typical, but I sometimes brown some finely cubed
pancetta (or smokehouse bacon) before adding the garlic, which is also commonly
done in Italy.  In Tuscany and most of central Italy, white cannelloni beans are
used, while the red barlotti, which resemble our kidney bean, are used in the north
and south.

Since we first traveled to Italy, I have been cooking beans this way. I usually use
local navy beans, but have bought cannelloni and even used the delicate flageolet
from France. The cannelloni and navy beans taste most like the dishes I’ve had in
Tuscany, but I’ve found that all beans taste great prepared this way and believe
now that freshness trumps variety.

I was sold some dried barlotti beans at a street market in Syragusa, Sicily, and they
never became soft, even after several hours. The vendor obviously identified us as
tourists and unloaded very old stock. He didn’t count on our staying for two
weeks in the area and was startled when I returned a week later and told him his
beans were “stones.” I admit I practiced the sentence with the help of a dictionary,
but perhaps a future tourist was saved from “beans of stone”.

Using dried beans from the most recent harvest is the other extreme. We are
fortunate to have two farms locally which produce wonderful dried beans:
Claudette and Brad Varney at One Acre Farm and their neighbor, Everett Weeks, of
Weeks Farm on Route 140 in Belmont, New Hampshire*. They grow heirloom
varieties, such as Jacob’s Cattle, among many others.

The Varneys are self sustaining and grow for themselves, selling only their
surplus, while the Weeks Farm “never runs out”, according to Mr. Weeks, who
packages his beans in one pound bags because ”everyone uses one pound of beans
in their baked bean recipes”. These beans are creamy and full of flavor and cook in
much less time than commercial beans which may be years old. I have obtained
beans for chefs from both these farms, and they always comment upon how
surprised they are at how quickly they cook. I take these opportunities to tell them
they have been cooking with old beans and that they should start sourcing locally.

Preparation is simple, and I often do not bother soaking freshly dried beans.
Tuscan beans make a great side with robust meat dishes, such as roast lamb and
with a salad are a satisfying lunch. Pureed, they can be spread on toasted bread
and drizzled with olive oil for authentic antipasto “bruschette.” They can also be
served at room temperature, drizzled with olive oil and sea salt.

Several years ago, I broiled a swordfish steak atop Tuscan beans, and the meaty
fish matched perfectly with the crusted earthy beans. I continue to serve it several
times a year. The beans can be made several days ahead, so the swordfish is easily
prepared for family or guests.

Tuscan beans:

1 pound dried cannelloni, navy or other dried beans, preferably dried this year
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 sprigs fresh rosemary or sage (1 tablespoon dried may be substituted)
Kosher or sea salt and ground pepper to taste

Rinse and pick over the beans and soak for 8-10 hours. Freshly dried beans can be
used without soaking or soaked 3-4 hours.

Heat a heavy pan over low-medium heat and add olive and garlic. Cook until the
garlic is softened and the oil infused with garlic flavor (4-5 minutes). Do not let the
garlic turn brown. Add the beans and herbs and cover the beans with cold water –
use only enough to cover all the beans. Do not add salt to the water.

Bring the water to a boil, lower the heat so that the water barley simmers and cover.
Check beans in 35 minutes if fresh, otherwise start checking them in 1 hour. Add
water as necessary to keep beans barely covered. Cooking times will vary; the
beans are done when they are still slightly firm but mash easily.

Season the cooked beans liberally with salt and pepper and add additional olive
oil, according to taste. Mash a few against the side of the pot to thicken the liquid.

Swordfish with Tuscan Beans

Two servings:

1 12-16 ounce fresh swordfish steak, at least 1 inch thick, or 2 6-8 ounce slices.
Leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
4-5 black pepper corns
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, with extra for drizzling
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups Tuscan beans

Place rosemary into a spice blender or a blender and process until finely ground.
Place into a small bowl and mix well with the olive oil. Liberally season the fish
with salt and pepper and coat both sides with the rosemary oil. Leave fish at room
temperature for one hour.

Preheat the oven broiler on high and position the shelf for broiling. Place the beans
into a heatproof shallow dish (round terracotta dishes are ideal) and level them. If
the beans are not warm, place the baking dish over low heat until the beans are
warm.

Place the swordfish on top of the beans, drizzling with any extra rosemary oil. Broil
for approximately 10 minute per inch of thickness. Do not overcook – the fish is
done when it is just firm to the touch and slightly pink in the center. The cooking
time might be slightly longer because the beans insulate the bottom of the dish.

This makes a great presentation. The Swordfish is colored by the rosemary and the
browning of the broiler, and the beans have a crust which contrasts nicely with the
creamy texture underneath. To continue the Tuscan theme, serve sautéed spinach
and roasted potatoes and a Tuscan red wine. Although this is a fish menu, the
richness of the swordfish and the robust flavor of the beans would overwhelm a
white wine.

Give this easy bean preparation a try. Its versatility makes it appropriate for many
occasions, and, if you stock up on this year’s crop of locally grown dried beans,
you’ll have not only an easy preparation but also the great flavor that makes them
such an important part of Tuscan cuisine.

*Weeks Farm
Depot Road
Belmont, NH, 03220
603 267 6739

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president
of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm to Restaurant
Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along with his wife,
Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in
Sanbornton, NH.  
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