With the Soul of Maremma: Braised Swiss Chard and Cannellini Beans

Today we are travelling to Tuscany, but we will not be venturing through Florence, Pisa, Sienna, or any other town that has made the region famous. Instead, I am pleased to introduce you to Maremma, a region located in the south of Tuscany. Maremma is a land filled with fields of grazing cattle, picturesque hill towns, delicious wines, and Italian cowboys galloping away on horseback. The truth is that I have never actually been to Maremma. However, after watching star chef Lidia Bastianich travel to the area several times in her cooking show Lidia’s Italy, I was inspired to make this classic Maremman fare, which she had prepared on the show, braised swiss chard and cannellini beans. According to Lidia, Maremma is a land full of robust and rustic flavors with fuse to create a hearty cuisine that is complemented by the region’s gutsy wines. I found the flavors in this dish to be surprisingly mellow, but not in a bad way. There are creamy cannellini beans, tangy tomatoes, feisty peperoncino, and best of all, delicate swiss chard which brings a pleasingly bitter flavor and leafy-green texture to the pot.

Through cooking this dish, I can tell that it is one that was created to appease the voracious appetites of the Maremman cowboys, who spend their days herding and tending to the famous Maremmana cattle, whose meat is used in the world-famous Bistecca Fiorentina. This bean stew is quite hearty and is traditionally served with grilled meats. I served mine last weekend with the salt-crusted snapper I had prepared. You might first think that fish and beans might be an odd combination, but I found the contrast between the light and flaky fish and the satisfying beans to be wonderful together. Whatever you use it for, a pot of braised swiss chard and cannellini beans tastes even better when it sits overnight, and it can keep in the fridge for a couple of days. I hope this dish inspires you, like it did for me, to try more food from this exciting region of Italy.

Recipe: Braised Swiss Chard and Cannellini Beans

Recipe by Lidia Bastianich

Ingredients

  • 3 cups canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon salt, adjust to taste
  • 2 pounds Swiss chard leaves
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, adjust to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, adjust to taste
  • 1 cup canned San Marzano tomatoes

Method

Cut the swiss chard leaves crosswise into strips. Boil the chard leaves in water for about 15 minutes, until they are very tender. Drain the chard. Heat around 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large pot and add the garlic. Stir it frequently till it is sizzling, about 2 minutes. Then add the crushed red pepper and tomato paste and toast them in hotspot in the pot for about a minute before mixing them with the garlic. Now add the crushed tomatoes and stir everything together. Add the beans and bring the mixture to a simmer. Then add the chard leaves and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for 30-40 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Before serving drizzle the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil on top, if you’d like.

Cooking Notes

  • With regards to cleaning the swiss chard, be sure to cut off the stems at the base of the leaf. You can leave the center veins in the leaf or cut them out.
  • You can make this recipe with dried cannellini beans as well. Just be sure to soak the beans overnight and the cook them for about 40 minutes, until tender.
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