Well, I’ve promised recipes that are easy, healthy and especially delicious, and will bring you at least one each week. So this week I am writing about my love for this bean soup. Now, there are a lot of bean soups I like, but this is the one I crave most often. It starts with a base soup, which makes enough for at least two meals, and you can add different things to make each meal its own. That is what makes this soup magical. I SO love having some of this soup in the freezer.
I have adapted this recipe from Lidia Bastianich’s fabulous cookbook, Lidia’s Family Table.
You start with a pound of dried cannellini beans. I order the ones from Rancho Gordo since they are the most delicious I’ve found ( I buy a bunch of beans from them at one time since the shipping is the same and the beans last a while in the pantry). You can also use white kidney beans or nave beans if that’s all you can find – they will taste fine but the texture will not be as creamy.
Soak the beans overnight: check the beans for any stray stones, put in a deep bowl with enough cold water to cover by at least an inch. Add two tablespoons of salt to the water and swish it around to dissolve.
To cook the soup: drain the beans, add to a big, heavy pot (a stockpot type) with about 4 quarts of water. Drop in two bay leaves, a few sprigs of thyme, and a tablespoon of olive oil. Bring the beans to a boil and simmer for an hour with the lid just a little ajar. Stir every now and then to keep the beans from sticking to the bottom.
At this point the soup won’t look very good, but don’t despair. Now add 2 teaspoons of salt, some pepper, and a piece or two of parmesan cheese rind. I keep the rinds in the freezer just for making soup and long-simmered sauces – just wash them off and they go right in the pot, completely edible and delicious. If you don’t have any rinds handy, the soup will still be delicious. Just add more parmesan when serving. Continue to simmer with the lid off, until the beans are creamy and the soup is the texture you like.
When the soup is almost there, make the soffrito. Pour about 1/4 cup olive oil into a skillet over medium-high heat, add six cloves of chopped garlic and 1/2 tsp. of red pepper flakes (this amount will not make it spicy, just tasty – adjust to your taste). When the garlic is sizzling and fragrant, add a ladle full of the soup broth and let them bubble together in the skillet for a minute or two, then add it all to the soup. The starch from the beans will help emulsify the flavored oil throughout the soup. Let it simmer for a few minutes, then remove the bay leaves and thyme stems.
Now the base is done! At this point I ladle half of the soup into a bowl to cool and then put it in the freezer to save for another day. There are many ways to complete this soup. My favorite is with zuccini, shrimp and spinach. I chop up about 3 zuchinis and simmer with the soup for about 20 minutes, until tender. Then I add two handfulls of baby spinach leaves per person and let that wilt into the soup. At this point turn off the heat, add 1/2 pound of small shrimp (or shrimp cut into bite-size pieces) and let the heat from the soup cook the shrimp. Top with grated parmesan and a little more olive oil, and you have a satisfying meal.
This soup is so good – filling and comforting it just feeds the soul. Some toasted ciabatta bread is great alongside.
Other finishes could be leftover roasted vegetables such as red peppers, onions, eggplant – just add them instead of the zuchini and shrimp and simmer together for a few minutes to warm the vegetables through. You could add some delicious Spring vegetables such as asparagus, peas, and baby carrots. Cook them with the soffrito and then simmer in the soup until tender. Oh, and you can finish with some crispy proscuitto or bacon if you like.
Your imagination is the only limit to this fabulous soup. In fact, I think I’ll put some beans on to soak tonight….