1 pound dried cannellini or Great Northern beans, washed, picked over, and soaked for 6 hours or overnight. (I soaked overnight)
1 medium or large onion.
1 whole clove
4 to 6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped or slivered fresh sage (or more to taste)
1 bay leaf
1/2 pound mild Italian sausage, casings removed, sliced or crumbled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I used more- love parsley!)
1 pound fresh or canned tomatoes, peeled and chopped with juice (I used two 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juices. One can was Italian herbs added)
Freshly ground black pepper
Drain the beans and combine with 2 quarts water in a large pot. Bring very slowly to the boil. Meanwhile, cut the onion and half and stick one half with the lone clove. Chop the other half of the onion and set aside. When the water reaches a boil, skim off any foam. Add the onion with the clove, 2 of the garlic cloves, half the sage and the bay leaf. Turn the heat to very low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour. Add salt to taste and simmer another 30 minutes, or until the beans are tender all the way through but still intact. Drain over a bowl and measure 2 1/2 cups of the broth. (Reserve the remaining broth for another use if desired)
*Advance prep notice* Prepare the beans up to 2 days in advance before proceeding with the recipe. Store in the fridge.
While the beans are cooking, heat a large, heavy flame-proof casserole over medium heat and add the sausage. Cook, stirring, until the sausage has browned lightly and rendered its fat. Remove from heat and remove the sausage from the pan. Pour off the fat. (*Note: I left the fat in for added flavor and then used less olive oil. Pour off if desired.)
Add the olive oil to the pan, heat for a moment, and add the chopped onion, carrot, celery and parsley. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are fragrant and tender, about 5 minutes, and add the remaining garlic. Stir together for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until the garlic is fragrant, and add the sausage, tomatoes, and the remaining sage. Season to taste with salt and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and smell fragrant. At this point, if the beans are not yet cooked through, turn off the heat and resume when the beans are ready.
*Advance prep notice* The sausage and tomato mixture can be prepared before you cook the beans, and up to 2 days ahead of time. Store in fridge.
Add the white beans and the reserved 2 1/2 cups of their broth to the tomatoes. Bring back to a simmer, stir together, turn the heat to very low, cover, and cook gently for 30 minutes. Add pepper, taste, and adjust the seasonings. For the best flavor, refrigerate overnight and reheat. Add more fresh sage if desired.
For a vegetarian version, simply omit the sausage and follow the recipe as written.