This unique Tuscan one dish meal, robust and very substantial, is typical of the Garfagnana valley behind the Apuan Alps, where the famous Carrara marble quarries are located. This hearty polenta is also called polenta incatenata, “polenta in chains” referring to the ribbons of shredded greens.
- 1 lb. fresh borlotti cranberry beans, in their shells or 1/2 C. dried beans, soaked in water to cover overnight
- 2 sage leaves
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 pieces fresh pork rind (cotiche), about 2 x 2 in. or 2 T. OO
- 1 C. OO
- 2 oz. pork fat, finely chopped or 2 oz. pancetta
- 2 T. basil
- 2 T. rosemary leaves, chopped
- 2 T. parsley, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
- 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 1/4 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
- 1 small bunch kale, *cavolo nero, or Savoy cabbage, cored and shredded
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 C. yellow cornmeal, coarsely ground
- broth or water
- S & P
- Parmigiano Reggiano or aged pecorino, grated
Shell the beans (or drain the soaked dried beans). Add the beans to a pot and cover with salted water to a depth of 1 inch. Add the sage, garlic, and pork rind, bring to a boil and then simmer, covered for about 20-30 min. or until the beans are tender but not falling apart. Discard the pork rind from the pan of beans. Reserve the beans in their cooking liquid.
Remove and discard the tough central ribs from the kale or cavolo nero. Cut the leaves into thin slivers – you should have 4 C., tightly packed. Rinse, drain and reserve.
Heat 1 T. of OO in a large soup pot and add the pork fat (or pancetta), carrots, onion, celery, basil, rosemary, and parsley and cook until the vegetables are soft but not brown. Now add the kale, the boiled beans with all of their liquid, the potatoes and the fennel seeds. Salt to taste. If the mixture is too dry add 1-2 C. boiling water or broth and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender. (The farinata may be prepared ahead of time up to this point, reheating before continuing the recipe, adding water if necessary.)
When ready to continue, add the cornmeal in a steady stream, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. If necessary, add a more boiling water/broth if the soup seems too thick. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, for about 40 min., to make a thick porridgy soup.
The infarinata may be eaten immediately, either hot or lukewarm. Before serving, drizzle OO over each serving (grated cheese optional).
Like polenta, it hardens if left to cool, and in this case it is best cut into slices and fried in OO.
- Make the soup more liquid and serve hot, with or over slices of toasted bread.
- Use meat or vegetable broth instead of water.
- Substitute garlic for the rosemary and basil.
- In the summer add fresh ripe, peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes.
- In the autumn add fresh wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced.
*cavolo nero is a very dark green kale looking like a glossy, curly, puckered ostrich plume. It is also called Italian black cabbage, black kale, lacinato kale, dinosaur kale and combinations of these names. The entire central flat stem of each leaf must be cut out and removed; it will not soften with cooking.