2 cups dried white pea beans or white cannelloni beans
1/2 pound pork skin (without any fat attached to it, and preferably air-dried)
4 or 5 very thick slices of Italian country bread
2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 dry sweet red peppers, chopped or crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon hot red chillies (optional)
3 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Water for soaking beans and cooking them
Water for cooking pork skin
1. Place dried beans in a large pot of cold water.
2. Place pork skin (cleaned of all fat) in a separate pot of cold water.
3. Soak overnight (or 8 hours or so).
4. Drain beans.
5. Drain pork skin.
6. Version A ("The "traditional" way). Cook beans and pork skin in a large pot of water for about 3/4 of an hour, or until the beans are soft and ready to eat.
6. Version B. Cook beans in one pot of water. Cook pork skin in a separate pot of water (The end result will be less "fatty" than cooking the beans and pork skin together).
7. Drain beans and pork skin.
8. Cut pork skin in chunks -- about 1 inch wide by 1 1/2 inches long (The pieces don't have to be uniform in size).
8. Heat up olive oil.
9. Saute chopped onion and garlic until a light golden color.
10. Add pork skin pieces and continue frying for about another 3 to 4 minutes.
11. Add sweet red peppers.
12. Add beans.
13. Season with salt and hot chillies (if using).
14. Cut very thick slices of country bread and place them under the broiler for a few minutes, or until the top sides are lightly toasted. Turn over and toast the other side.
15. Remove bread from oven.
16. Place the slices of toasted bread in oven-proof baking dishes. Top each dish with the pork and bean mixture.
17. Place in the oven for a few minutes or until the mixture is nice and hot, and the bread is soaked through.
18. Remove from oven and garnish the individual dishes with fresh parsley.
19. Serve warm with salad greens.
Prior to World War II any dish with some meat in it -- even pork skin! -- was perceived as being rather special. At my maternal grandmother's house pork meat was in such short supply that she reserved whatever pork she had for special occasions (including Carnival). So while this dish, "beans and pork," might sound rather ordinary to us city folks, prior to World War II it was perceived as a treat. At that time households air-dried their pork, so possibly that's why the pork skin was boiled (prior to being fried). In Canada most butcher shops don't sell air-dried pork skin, so the original recipe can't really be duplicated. Boiled fresh pork skin ends up being a bit slimy but some might take to it (I didn't!). Personally I prefer the vegetarian version of this dish, but then that could just be me.... Photo: by the contributor.