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Tuscany White Bean Soup

November 21, 2008

The sudden recent cold snap and snow flurries that followed on the heels of an unreal stretch of 60 degree, early November weather reminded me just how much of a summer girl I am. There is very little about winter that I like, but one large consolation is that it’s soup weather. Have I mentioned lately how much I love soup?

I devoted last winter to inventing and refining six original soup recipes. It was a lot of fun – and I consumed a lot of soup (I mean, a lot of soup, more mushroom soup than I thought I would in a lifetime) – and I learned more about flavors and ingredient interaction than I ever could’ve from a class or a book.

This year, however, I want to explore everything. I’m scouring recipe sites and cookbooks, and I have a list a mile long of recipes waiting in line to try. I’ve already discovered two bean soups that I simply adore. One white bean, one black bean.

I’ll start with the white bean soup. This recipe is adapted from several sources, as I couldn’t find any one with the starting point I had in mind. Ina Garten’s was close, and I shamelessly swiped the rosemary idea from her (thanks, Ina!), but unless you’re making soup for an army (where cost would be an issue), there is no reason to start with dried beans. Canned beans will do just fine. The problem with dried beans is that you have to plan way ahead (so you can’t just throw the soup together to satisfy a craving), and they’re finicky as all get out to cook. (Another thing about her recipe is that although I consider onion a food group of its own, 4 cups of chopped onions for a 6-serving soup is, um, a tad hefty.)

What I find most amazing about this soup is its dreamy creaminess, even though there’s not a lick of dairy in it, while the prosciutto adds just the right zing of sassy salty goodness. So smooth and yummy and … nurturing.

Tuscany White Bean Soup
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet or yellow onion, chopped
1 leek, white part with some green, thinly sliced and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 oz proscuitto, thinly sliced and cut into small pieces
1 quart chicken stock
1 branch fresh rosemary (whole branch, cleaned)
1 Tbs fresh rosemary leaves, chopped or cut with scissors into small pieces
1 bay leaf
1 can (15 oz.) Cannellini beans
1 can (15 oz.) Great Northern Beans
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for topping

Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium heat until the surface shimmers. Add onions, leeks, garlic and celery and saute until onions are soft and translucent (about 5-8 minutes). Breathe deeply and savor the delicious aroma.

Add prosciutto and cook until the proscuitto starts to sweat and release its juices, stirring frequently. Add a portion of the chicken stock to the pot, covering the ingredients. When the liquid starts to boil, add the rosemary branch, the rosemary leaves and the bay leaf. Stir well.

Add the cans of cannellini beans and great northern beans. Add the remaining chicken stock and give it all a good swirl. Bring to a gentle boil, then turn down heat to maintain a bare simmer. Cover and allow to cook for 20 minutes (like most soups, the longer it simmers, the more time the flavors will have to meld and expand. You could easily leave this soup to do its thang in a crock pot). Uncover and remove the rosemary branch and bay leaf. Taste, and add salt and pepper to suit. (Remember, proscuitto is already salty, so, go slow with the white stuff.)

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup to your desired consistency (I like the soup to contain equal parts of smooth puree and mostly-intact beans). Ladle soup into large mugs or bowls and top with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with hot, crusty bread slathered in butter, and a contented sigh.

One Comment
  1. November 22, 2008 6:09 pm

    I cooked a white chicken chili recently (with a spice mix, I admit), and I’ve been greatly pleased with the results. I started with dried beans (a little time on my hands). I, too, started with white and navy beans, but added garbanzo beans (a 1/1/1 balance) for a little textural and flavor oomph.

    I found myself with only chicken thighs in the fridge when I wanted to use breasts. Thai fish sauce graces almost everything I cook, and this was no exception. White cooking wine, as well. A whole chopped onion, added about an hour after the dried beans began boiling. Some Bellamessa brand smoked sea salt flakes that were recently gifted to me, and I was on my way. I think it was a Lawry’s mix I used, by the way.

    I’m not above using mixes, but they must be jollied. And, of course, when using mixes, the jollying must be from the gut, never measured, completely improvised. Like thighs over breasts in this chili? I think they worked marvelously.

    It’s the gloriously absolutely-from-scratch stuff that must be recorded. Otherwise, it’s just spatulating from the seat of my pants.

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