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white bean soup with winter vegetables

February 18, 2011

So, here’s how the decision to make this soup went down.

Me: You know those meatball subs you picked out to make for dinner tonight [more on those later]? I want to make something fun as a side.
Chris: Like veggies?
Me: Blech blurgh ew no. Like…soup!
Chris: Ooo, veggie soup!

Chris’s logic won out…this time. See? I’m not demanding all the time!

I pulled up all the veggie soup recipes I could find on Cook’s Illustrated and told him to pick. My only criteria was that the recipe not include chicken broth. (Did I say I wasn’t demanding all the time? Oops, I lied!) I mean, there’s nothing wrong with chicken broth, but I always feel like I’m cheating when I use it in a soup recipe, you know? Like, YO DAWG, I HEARD YOU LIKE SOUP, SO I PUT SOUP IN YOUR SOUP SO YOU COULD SOUP WHILE YOU SOUP.

That narrowed it down to two or so recipes, and Chris has a thing for beans, so he chose this one.

And off we went to the grocery store in the middle of nowhere—which, surprisingly, did have exotic things like escarole and kale, along with ginormous aloe vera leaves and name/yams, which look like tree bark but are actually kinda somewhat potato-y.

Anyway, I have to say, for a soup that doesn’t involve blending and/or cream, this was actually pretty good. The broth was super-flavorful, and it seeped into the veggies and the beans so that they didn’t taste like grass and dirt anymore. Plus, while it did take a good amount of time to come together, most of it involved lots of simmering, so I was able to sit around and read magazines while Chris slaved away on the meatballs.

Oh, and uh, then I turned on the broiler, forgetting Chris had been making kale chips in the oven to sprinkle on top of the soup. My bad.

White Bean Soup with Winter Vegetables
4 oz. pancetta, one 1-inch thick slice, cut into 1-inch cubes [we used the packaged cubed stuff in the fancy cheeses section, because although the grocery store had random veggies and fruits from who-knows-where, their deli did not stalk pancetta]
8 oz. dried cannellini beans [we used Great Northern], rinsed and picked over
1 medium onion, halved pole to pole, 1 half left unpeeled and uncut and 1 half diced medium
4 medium cloves garlic, 2 unpeeled and whole, 2 minced
1 bay leaf [we left this out]
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small carrot, medium diced
1 rib celery, medium diced
1 small leek, white and light green parts, washed thoroughly and sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
2 oz. kale, stemmed, leaves cut into 1/2-inch strips (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 oz. escarole, stemmed, leaves cut into 1/2-inch strips (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 small boiling potato, medium diced
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 sprig fresh rosemary

1. In large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, cook pancetta over medium heat until just golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add 6 cups water, beans, intact onion half, whole garlic cloves, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to boil over medium-high heat. Cover pot partially, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are almost tender, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Remove beans from heat, cover, and let stand until beans are tender, about 30 minutes. Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid; discard pancetta, onion, garlic, and bay leaf. [We left the pancetta in, because a) um, duh, it’s almost bacon, of course we want to eat it, and b) no way was I picking through the beans to get at the little pancetta-bits.] Spread beans in even layer on baking sheet and cool. [I just left them in the colander.]
2. While beans are cooling, heat oil in now-empty Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering; add carrot, celery, leek, and diced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add enough water to reserved bean cooking liquid to equal 4 1/2 cups; add to pot with kale and escarole. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil; cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 30 minutes. Add potatoes and tomatoes; cover and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Add cooled beans; increase heat to medium-high and bring to simmer. Submerge rosemary sprig in liquid; cover and let stand off heat 15 to 20 minutes. Discard rosemary and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve.

Source: adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

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