I was really bummed when La Cucina Italiana ceased publication. It was by far my favorite cooking magazine. I read every issue cover-to-cover and always found lots of recipes and new ideas. It really was my go-to for new ideas.

And then it went away. Condé Nast – the evil publishing empire – closed down the US magazine without notice last year and changed my subscription to Bon Appétit. Bon Appétit is quite juvenile after reading La Cucina Italiana. Horrible photography, ridiculous fonts and graphics… I’m not sure who their market is, nowadays, but it certainly isn’t anyone who actually likes to cook.

But I digress…

I saved many issues, and went perusing today. I’m glad I did – I found a great recipe for black beans and duck in the November 2011 edition.

I had a smoked duck breast in the freezer  – don’t ask – and it really needed using. I also had 5 grilled lamb rib chops from last night that were taking up space in the ‘fridge. It was too late to soak and cook dried beans, but I had a can of light red kidney beans. The rest of the ingredients were pretty much pantry staples. I went to work.

As per usual, what I did and what the recipe states are different, so I’m going to give you the recipe pretty much as written in the now-defunct magazine. It can be your guide for creating something really tasty – and really easy.

Fagioli Neri con Ragù di Anatra

Black Beans with Duck Ragù
adapted from La Cucina Italiana magazine

  • 1 1/2 cups dried black beans
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 lb boneless duck breast, skin removed, and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • salt and pepper

Rinse beans and place in large saucepan. Cover with water by 3″ and soak overnight.

The following day, add bay leaf and 1 tbsp oil to pot and bring mixture to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to a bare simmer, and cook until beans are very tender – 30 minutes to an hour, depending upon the beans.

Drain beans, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.

In a large saucepan, heat butter and remaining tbsp olive oil. Add duck and cook, stirring occasionally, until duck is browned on all sides.

Add onion, celery, carrots, garlic, rosemary, and salt and pepper, to taste. Reduce heat to medium, and cook until vegetables are softened.

Remove and discard rosemary, and add wine.

Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until wine has evaporated. Add reserved cooking liquid, cover, and simmer until duck is tender – about 45 minutes.

Add the drained beans to the ragû, cover, and continue cooking until everything is heated through – about 10 minutes.

Serve over polenta, if desired.

Polenta is Italian cornmeal mush. I seriously love it. Sadly, Nonna doesn’t like it – it reminds her of the Sons of Italy Orphanage she spent time in during her youth. I don’t make it as often as I used to, but when it does, I just give her mashed potatoes.

You don’t need a bag marked “polenta” to make dinner. My preference is for coarse, but your preference is your preference. You’re eating it. And if you’re cooking for me, I’m eating what you’re serving. No arguments from me.

I always add shredded cheese – always whatever is already in the ‘fridge. Tonight I used about a half-cup of shredded mozzarella that was left from dinner a few nights ago. I’ve used everything from Boursin to Cheddar, Monterey Jack to Gouda, Parmesan to Asiago – and back again. Use what you like.

Cheesy Polenta

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup polenta
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 cup cheese of your choice
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Bring milk and spices to a boil.  Add polenta slowly, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat and continue cooking as per package instructions.  Stir in cheese and serve.

It all came out great.