Tuscans, the so called Mangiafagioli, in other words, The Bean Eaters, really know how to cook their beans. They simmer them gently all the while so that the beans turn soft, creamy and tender inside whilst their skins still manage to hold their shape. Traditionally beans are cooked in a fiasco (flask) or a terracotta dish, but a heavy based pan is a good, modern substitute.
A couple of tips before you start: find descent quality dry white beans (I use cannelinni), preferably not older than one year and secondly, never let them boil, except at the very beginning.
The cooking time will depend on the size and age of the beans, you should allow one hour to one hour and a half.
Although I haven’t come across for this contorno (side dish) served in an abundance of olive oil, personally though, I really enjoy it this way.
Soak the beans in cold water overnight or a minimum of 8 hours.
Drain and rinse the beans.
Put the beans in a heavy bottomed pan along with the garlic cloves, sage leaves and cover with water, which should come about 3 cm above the beans.
Put the lid on and over a medium heat bring the pan to the boil. Lower the heat immediately, skim away any white froth and simmer covered for about 1-1.5 hours (depending on the size and age of the beans).
The beans should be creamy and tender inside, their skins soft but still retaining their shape.
Turn the heat off and season with some salt. Give everything a stir and leave for about 30 minutes allowing the beans to rest and absorb some salt.
Leave the beans in their cooking liquid until needed.
When ready to serve just heat everything gently, take the beans out using a slotted spoon and place on a serving plate.
Drizzle generously with olive oil, season with some black pepper and salt if needed. Squeezing some lemon juice is not conventional, but you might enjoy the freshness that it brings to the dish.
Serve the beans warm or at room temperature.