The Tuscans are not called mangiafagioli (beaneaters) for nothing: beans play a huge part in the local cuisine. And they're sooooo good too: in the days when you could actually afford to carry more than a spare pair of knickers on Ryanair we used to bring back kilos of them (beans, not knickers), along with several litres of newly pressed oil (if you once saw someone emptying a large suitcase at Stansted airport security and trying to explain convincingly why it was full of bubblewrap and not a lot else ... that was me). Lucca was our very favourite haunt; apart from being just a genuinely lovely little city, its oil and beans are wonderful. It was there that I first ate zuppa di frantoiana - literally 'oil mill soup' - at a trattoria called Gigi. December is oil pressing time, and dishes featuring the new oil are on every menu. Gigi's zuppa was so good that we ate it twice, in quick succession, then I came home and did my best to recreate it.
In spite of its name and its Tuscan origins, this could perfectly well be an Ariégeois dish, especially when it's made using the lovely, tender white beans grown here - known as Cocos de Pamiers - that are used in mounjetado, the Ariège version of cassoulet. Here of course it would be more likely to feature duck or goose fat rather than olive oil, though times are changing and there's slow movement in many restaurants towards using much lighter ingredients to create equally big flavours (which gets a big tick from me).
After several days of wall repointing, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to spend a few hours on zuppa duty, especially given that the alternative was ... more of the same! So, in case you too have a task that you'd like to avoid, or you've just eaten one too many plate of rich food over the holidays, here is the (sort of) recipe.
some onions and/or leeks, diced
some green celery, including the leaves, finely chopped
some carrots, chopped into smallish pieces
a few potatoes, ditto
some garlic, minced
some fresh herbs - rosemary, thyme, parsley, basil, etc - chopped
a couple of peperoncini or small dried red chili peppers, crushed
some cavalo nero (black Tuscan kale) or Savoy cabbage, shredded
some butternut squash or pumpkin or potimarron, peeled and chopped into small-to-medium pieces
a few tomatoes, skinned and chopped, or a tin
some vegetable stock
some pinto or cannellini beans, cooked
a rind of Parmesan if you have one
some wheat or spelt grains
some good olive oil
Add the wheat and simmer for another half an hour. At that point, add the rest of the beans and simmer for another 20 minutes or so. Stir in some olive oil and let the whole thing stand for a couple of hours. Reheat gently - it should now be nicely thick - check the seasoning, ladle into bowls and serve with a glug of good olive oil poured over each one.
Oh, and make at least twice as much as you can eat, because it'll be even better tomorrow ....