Do you celebrate Epiphany/Little Christmas? I don't, but I'm beginning to wish I did. I love Christmas. I love the festive feel. I think that feeling tends to fade for most people as soon as the New Year's Eve hangover wears off. Even though many homes and public areas keep their decorations up until January 6th, by January 1st it tends to feel stale and anticlimactic to me. I want to keep that festive feeling going. I like the idea of milking Christmas for all it's worth. If you stretch out the Christmas celebration, you keep having something to look forward to. There is even a bonus because you are now allowed to put off that New Year's resolution to lose weight for a few days.
I know some people do still celebrate Epiphany. The bakeries in my neighborhood all sell Three Kings Cakes. It seems to be the most important to Italians (or perhaps to all Catholics). For Italians the mythical witch, La Befana, makes her appearance on Epiphany Eve. This is when she gives out presents to the children of the world in atonement for not bringing a gift to the Christ Child (depending on which version of the legend you believe).
This year I decided to do something festive for Little Christmas. I would make a nice meal, serve wine, and try to think of something Italian inspired.
My inspiration came from my 2011 trip to Italy where on the farm we often had beans mixed with rosemary and olive oil or a big bowl of bietole, doused in olive oil, as contorni. I also remembered my grandmother occasionally cooking "beans and greens". It felt properly Italian to do a dish with both beans and dark greens, and Italian seemed appropriate for the last day of Christmas.
I made my dish with pancetta, onions, garlic, white chard, cannellini beans, rosemary, and pine nuts. I think of it as a simple dish, but it was definitely a bit heavier than the foods I ate in Italy.
This is America. I'm allowed to overload my dishes with extra ingredients!
I served this as a side dish alongside a roast chicken (which I felt would be a festive meal for a minor holiday). I think it would do well by itself as a meal though. The leftovers would make a perfect lunch. There is a wonderful combination of flavors here. You have sweetness from the onions and pine nuts, saltiness from the pancetta, mild bitterness from the chard (one thing I like about chard is that it's not overly bitter as some greens are), and a savory texture from the beans.
This was so good, I hope to serve it again - and not just on holidays. I think this side dish will make many appearances on my table in the future.
White Beans and Chard
- 2 oz pancetta, cut into small pieces
- 1 Tbl olive oil
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 bunch white card, roughly chopped
- Optional splash of wine or chicken stock
- 1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 Tbl pine nuts, toasted
Add the olive oil to the pan and then add the onions. Cook until the onions are soft and transparent. Add the garlic and cook another minute or two.
Add the chard to the pan and cook until it wilts and the stems become tender (they don't have to be totally soft though). If you would like to add a little wine or chicken stock at this point, go right ahead. I found the dish didn't need any extra liquid, but I did consider adding some and I think that might add to the dish a bit.
When greens are wilted stir in the beans and rosemary. Cook over low heat until the beans are warmed through.
Toss with the pine nuts and reserve pancetta bits and serve.