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Warm Borlotti Bean and Radicchio Salad

This salad from the Veneto in Italy is a study in contrasts: warm, creamy, sweet-tasting beans against crisp, cool, lightly bitter radicchio and salty, crisp pancetta. Cannellini or other white kidney beans can be substituted for the borlotti beans. Serve the salad as an accompaniment to grilled tuna or roasted chicken. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried borlotti or cranberry beans 
  • 2 oz. pancetta, chopped 
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1 garlic clove, lightly crushed 
  • One 2-inch fresh rosemary sprig 
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 
  • 1 small head radicchio, about 1/4 lb., trimmed and cut crosswise into narrow strips 
  • 1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice 
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 

Directions:

Pick over the beans and discard any misshapen beans or stones, then rinse under cold running water and drain. Place in a large bowl with cold water to cover by about 3 inches and let soak for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. Alternatively, transfer the rinsed beans to a large pot, add water to cover by 3 inches, bring to a boil, remove from the heat and let stand for 1 to 2 hours.

Drain the beans, place in a saucepan with water to cover by about 4 inches and bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off the foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to low, cover partially and simmer until the beans are tender, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. The timing will depend on the variety and age of the beans. Use immediately, or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Makes 2 1/2 to 3 cups beans. You only need 2 cups for this recipe, so reserve the rest for another use.

In a saucepan large enough to hold the beans, cook the pancetta over medium heat, stirring often, until crisp, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to paper towels to drain.

Add 1 Tbs. of the olive oil to the fat in the pan and warm over medium heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and sauté until the garlic is lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in 2 cups of the cooked beans and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes to blend the flavors.

Remove the beans from the heat and remove and discard the rosemary and garlic. In a serving bowl, toss together the beans, radicchio and reserved pancetta. Add the remaining 2 Tbs. oil and the lemon juice and toss again.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, sprinkle with the parsley and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian by Michele Scicolone (Oxmoor House, 2007).