Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma
(I am a truthful man
From where the palm tree grows
And before dying I want
To let out the verses of my soul)
Well, the palm trees for me are located in Italy, not Cuba. And the verses of my soul seem to be pasta recipes, not poetry. But both could have been. My great grandfather Pasquale Ciccone left Avellino for America around 1895. For whatever reason, he landed in Haiti, where he lived for some years before making his way to New York. The only reason I know this is because my grandmother often prepared rice and red beans when I was a child. She once explained that she learned how to make the dish from her mother-in-law, who learned how to make it while living in Haiti.
I learned how to perfect a different version of rice and red beans while living in New Orleans, which also traces the dish back to Haiti. So here is the recipe for red beans, Italian style, brought to you via Naples, Haiti, New Orleans, and New York. These beans get around.
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Soak dried beans overnight in abundant water. In the morning, drain, add to a large saucepan, and cover them, plus a few inches, with fresh water. Gently boil over medium-low heat for 2 hours or until tender but not mushy. Drain and reserve until needed for pasta.
In a large skillet, over medium heat, sauté the onion, celery and garlic in the olive oil until the onion is lightly golden. Crumble the sausage into the skillet, and cook until the sausage is lightly browned. Add the beans to the sausage mixture. Cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, making sure that the beans do not disintegrate.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Cook the pasta until al dente (about 2 minutes less than the package directions), drain, and retain 1 cup of cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the beans. If the mixture seems dry, add some of the pasta water. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with grated Parmigiano.
Please note that this dish takes 30 minutes, plus time to soak and cook the beans.