Last autumn I was in Italy for the first time in way too long. This was the funny time when we all thought this covid thing was waning and we were heading back to normal. Weren't we cute?
Regular followers of Rancho Gordo know of our love and admiration for the amazing Judy Witts Francini. She is a powerhouse of knowledge about the Italian kitchen and nothing makes her happier than sharing her secrets. She has many.
Judy arranged for me to meet with some members of the cooperative that is keeping the Sorana bean production going. Unable to meet our demands with Italian production, we of course grew their seed on the West Coast and market them as Marcella, to honor the Italian producers (and my hero, Marcella Hazan).
We have space here so we just let the bean plants grow as they will. Sorano is very limited (which is why they can't increase production) and every inch is maximized.
Judy and I met each other in Firenze in the early 1980s. She was just starting out with her tours and classes and I was a clueless but well-fed tourist. I'd end up moving to Milano in 1988 and actually became the host of a radio show, Mister Lucky Cocktail, for a local jazz station.
In the states, almost every aspect of bean production is automated. Not in Sorana! Here Maurizio goes down every row with a little garden scooter and handpicks the beans and tosses them into a bucket for threshing later.
We use a moisture meter to decide when to harvest. Rita explains to me that they just make sure they are well-dried before storing. They would rather overdry them a bit in order to avoid molding beans since most Italians soak their beans anyway.
I was a little nervous to meet Rita and Maurizio as we were growing their beans stateside, but they were fine with that. There is a terroir that can't be replicated and we didn't call them Sorana , so there was no confusion.
I think there was a little disbelief that someone would match their passion for beans but we've become fast friends and I can't wait to visit them again.
Afterward, we went to the local restaurant, Ristorante da Carla, to enjoy the fruits of their labor. All the beans are cooked al fiasco, which is in a glass carafe with a narrow top that cooks the beans perfectly.
The highlight was the beans served over a piece of toast that had been thoroughly saturated with fabulous Tuscan olive oil, topped with a piece of lardo, which is cured pork fat (not the same as lard), which on its own isn't so appealing, but gently melting over warm beans is a thing to be remembered always.
In case you had doubts, Bean People are the best people!
If you are considering a trip to Italy, you would be well-served by getting in touch with Judy. She can arrange to help you get to Sorana, as well as anywhere in Italia that you fancy, and really, for me having Judy sitting across a dinner table means I'll eat well, have some laughs, and remember why Italy is one of my favorite places on the planet.
Divina Cucina on the web (with contact information)
These great photos were taken by artist Kelly Borsheim, someone as nice as she is talented.