A Restaurant in Italy

italyresto.jpgOpen and become a part owner in a restaurant in Italy?  Sure, why not?  That’s exactly what happened several years ago when chef Jeremiah Tower and I decided to try our hand at operating a ristorante in a small hill town in Umbria, Italy.  What no one tells you before you arrive to attempt such an endeavor are the hoops you must jump through, and the circus-type feats you must attempt to get the necessary licenses and permits to start a business in Italy as a foreigner.  Madonna! It was like trying to squeeze olive oil out of Cararra marble.  Endless meetings with lawyers, police chiefs, and building inspectors and we still didn’t have the necessary permits and documentation to operate a business. 

It all started in 2003 while on a three week trip to southern France and Italy.  Italian friends told us about a small restaurant where the owner of the property (a small hotel along with the restaurant) was looking for a chef to become a part owner in the restaurant.  Ristorante Carleni was located in Amelia, a small hill town in Umbria not too far from the well-known town of Todi, and relatively close to the A1 auto route.  The A1 connects Rome to Florence and is heavily traveled.  We looked at the restaurant and were intrigued.  We initially thought that we might operate it on a seasonal basis opening in the spring and closing in the fall.  We went back to try it out in the spring of 2004.  After much effort and hand wringing we both decided that there were far too many roadblocks and difficulties, and opted not to proceed with the project.  But this post isn’t really about the restaurant, it’s about beans.

italyhouse.jpgWe arrived in Italy in May and spent several months trying to make the restaurant work.  The month of May was wet and cold but as soon as June hit summer began — glorious Italian summer.  We rented a house in the Umbrian countryside outside Amelia.  The house had three apartments; Jeremiah took one, I took one, the third was for visitors.  The house had exquisite views of the rolling green Umbrian hills. 

I quickly discovered that the local Coop had all we needed in the way of food.  Coops are a national chain of grocery stores in Italy but unlike American chain grocery stores they have an abundance of products of exceedingly high quality.  The produce was like it came from a neighbor’s garden.  The salumeria had endless types of cured meats; the cheese counter had hundreds of choices.  The luscious, ruby red, full-flavored tomatoes they sold became one of my staples.  They reminded me of tomatoes that came out of my great-grandparents’ garden.  They smelled like a tomato; they were ripe and ready to eat.  I was in love.  A huge bowl always sat on my kitchen counter.

italianbeans.jpgSince Jeremiah and I had separate kitchens dining at home became a communal experience.  We’d agree on a time to eat and bring to the outdoor table whatever we pulled together from our respective kitchens.  One of my creations became a favored lunchtime staple: Cannellini Beans with Tomatoes and Garlic.  For some reason I grabbed a couple of cans of cannellini beans at the Coop one day (I don’t normally buy canned products). 

When I got home I sautéed garlic in amazing olive oil, threw in some cut up tomatoes and let them cook down, then added the beans, salt, pepper, and herbs, stirred it all together, and wow!  Everyone loved this dish.  We ate it often and served it to guests.  It was wonderful on its own with crusty bread, or with grilled fish that Jeremiah might have made, or grilled sausages even.  I make this dish often now as it is so easy, so versatile and so delicious.  


Cannellini Beans with Tomatoes and Garlic


4 – 6

Preparation Time

45 – 60 minutes


4 – 14 oz. cans of cannellini beans, drained OR 4 cups cooked beans

6 – 8 garlic cloves, chopped

4 – 5 medium sized tomatoes, cut in 1/4ths, or 1/8ths

8 – 10 Tbs olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 tsp herbes de Provence


Sauté garlic in olive oil in medium sized skillet, or sauté pan over medium heat for 1 minute.  Do not brown.

Add tomatoes, salt and pepper, and herbes de Provence.  Stir together and cook until tomatoes soften and lose their shape about 4 – 6 minutes.  Stir occasionally to keep from burning.

Add beans and stir together with tomato-garlic mixture.  Cook until beans are heated through about 5 minutes or so.

Check seasonings.  Add salt if needed.


Charles G. Thompson is a Los Angeles-based freelance food writer, whose reviews and stories can be found at his blog 100 Miles, an exploration of local sustainibility.