It’s not every day that you walk by François Mitterand on the road to Paciano. Unless, of course, your friend, the Bossy Blonde, has decided that the flattened frog on your morning walk should have a name and that it should be of a dead French man, and that she only knows of one. I am totally in favor of this. I am decidedly all for the anthropomorphizing of any and everything (I have named all of the cars I’ve ever owned, obnoxiously enough) and why not memorialize the man whose last meal was a tribute to the particularly cruel, yet delicious, cuisine of his homeland (the outlawed eating of ortolan, anyone) by naming roadkill after him?
Anyway, after two full weeks of the daily sighting of Monsieur Mitterand in all his squashed glory, he was absent today, no longer a mile marker for my morning routine, having most likely been washed away in the torrential, unseasonable downpour we had in Umbria on Saturday. A storm that started just as our poor, mistreated and overworked Fiat gasped back into town after a ridiculous “little drive” that should have taken 45 minutes.
We had set out to go to a cheese factory outside of Todi with the idea to then carry on to Orvieto for some lunch and bubbles, but it quickly devolved from a great plan into a two and a half hour carnival ride on roads that Bossy later described as like “driving on radiatore, radiator shaped pasta” through the insane mountainous landscape. It was BRUTAL, and only salvageable as a day because there was CHEESE (my favorite being the black truffle pecorino) at the finish line at Caseificio Montecristo.
I heard this line at least a half dozen times as I tried, once again, in our little “soupapolooza! Goes to Italy” story, to not throw up, “You follow the sign that says it’s the road to Rome, but it’s not THE road to Rome, it’s A road to Rome.”
Our trip, though greatly underestimated in its time suckage, was purposeful-- we were to buy cheese and meat in Todi for our Ferragosto “Shin Dig”, the party Bossy and I were hosting for our collected Italian, American and Irish friends in Panicale the next day, when we would finally prepare the beautiful shin meat we bought from Dario.
We made it to Todi and to the caseficio intact, but certainly battered and with a torn Michelin map (I’m sorry, but my palms just couldn’t help but sweat and they stuck to the pages). We bought some pecorino cheeses, guanciale, prosciutto and condiments and then we left, bounty in hand and on ice, winding again, through the mountains on a less perilous road towards a very late lunch.
Once we arrived in Orvieto and after we spent what seemed like 15 minutes taking stairs and escalators through a medieval dungeon from the parking lot, we each ate a plate of pasta and drank a glass of wine because we had earned it: Bossy for delivering us alive and me for simply sitting on my ass and eating cheese.
“Are you going to absolutely hate me?” Bossy said as we were leaving Orvieto, as we got on the A-1, which, incidentally, is less than a kilometer from the center of town.
Clearly I hadn’t looked at the map yet. “Why would I hate you, I LOVE you!” I said as we drove on the autostrada towards home, happy to be on a paved, straight line and not listening to Van Morrison.
“Because we’re almost to our exit home.”
And I did, momentarily, want to throttle her, for the utter futility of the previous motion sickness and for the road fright our journey had caused. But I knew that I had now seen ridiculous parts of Umbria, parts that locals haven’t seen, and there must be some kind of perverse bragging rights in that alone. So the flash of anger was just that, and we exited to Chiusi.
And the heavens opened up and dumped months of rain on us-- right as the Cinquecento pulled into the grocery store parking lot.
Of course the Italians were all hunkered together in the doorways, logically waiting to walk to their cars until the mess settled down; but Bossy and I, in our ridiculous American pluck (or is it stubbornness?), refused to wait. We managed to absolutely drench ourselves in the 10 or so yards to the door. It was pretty fun.
After such a harrowing, stormy day, I could think of nothing but a bowl of soup. So we made a pot.
Cannellini Soup di Bossy e Bagnata
2 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked in water overnight
handful flat parsley
1 yellow onion, halved
2 celery stalks, halved
1 medium carrot, peeled and quartered
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup garlic cloves
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
1 dried arbol chile pod
1 TBSP kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Balsamic vinegar, viscous and aged, for drizzling (the GOOD stuff, please)
Drain the soaked beans and place in a stockpot or dutch oven. Add parsley, onion, celery and carrot to the pot and cover with water, around 4 quarts, until beans are submerged by a few inches. Add 1 TBSP of salt and bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce the heat and simmer the beans until they are tender and creamy, adding more water to the pot if necessary, 2 to 3 hours. Skim pot occasionally.
For garlic confit
In medium saucepan, combine the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, chile pod, and salt over medium heat. Once simmering, reduce heat to low and cook garlic cloves until tender, about 40 minutes, careful not to brown them. Take off heat and remove rosemary stems and chile pod.
Once the beans are tender, remove parsley, onion, celery and carrot and discard. Add the garlic confit to the stewed beans and stir until fully combined. Simmer over medium heat, frequently stirring for 5 minutes.
Using a blender, in small batches, puree until it is a velvety, smooth consistency. Alternatively, use an immersion blender.
Season to taste with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.
Ladle into soup bowl. Drizzle with fine aged balsamic vinegar
The rain didn’t let up for hours, even after we got home. We prepped the braise for the Shin Dig while the soup stewed and Bossy made a pot of Lentils for one of our honored guests that would be coming by the next day. I was in my pajamas. There was a flash of lightning and a roll of thunder, and it was probably at that very moment that Mitterand washed away to his final resting place.