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This is a simplified version of classic Tuscan fagioli uccelletto. For complexity, we flavor the beans with three layers of sage—finely chopped leaves, sage-infused oil and crumbled fried leaves. Any variety of canned white beans will work, though great northern and navy beans held their shape better than cannellini. This dish is hearty enough to serve as a main—it's excellent with grilled rustic bread—but is also a good accompaniment to roast chicken or pork.
To make the recipe using dried white beans, start by soaking ½ pound dried great northern beans in 6 cups water and 1 ½ tablespoons salt overnight. The next day, heat an oven to 300 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Drain the beans and add them to a large saucepan along with 2 bay leaves, and 1 head garlic with the top third removed. Pour in 2 cups water, bring to a simmer over high, cover, and bake until the beans and tender and creamy, about 1 hour. Drain the beans (reserving the liquid) then proceed with the recipe substituting the cooked beans for the canned beans called for in the recipe.
tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
large fennel bulb, trimmed and finely chopped
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