Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tuscan Bean Soup

Well, the cold weather continues here in the northeast.  In the Philadelphia area we were spared the brunt of the snow storm that socked most of New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts this past weekend.  Looking at the news reports, I feel guilty being cranky about the lack of sun and a little fog.  One thing I know for sure, the mid-winter doldrums have definitely influenced the menu selections for our Wednesday gatherings!

It was Singers turn to cook and when we arrived there was a delightful fire roaring, an open bottle of wine, and cheese with fruit and crackers, so whatever crabbiness we brought with us immediately vanished up the chimney flue along with the embers!    
The bean soup recipe below is a “morphed recipe” of two soups…a Tuscan Bean Soup that calls for escarole – you can also use Swiss chard -- and a traditional bean soup recipe. Regardless of how Singer arrived at this velvety blend that warmed us straight to our bones, it was really, really good.  Seriously delicious.

This recipe calls for cannellini beans.   Cannellini beans – related to kidney, navy, and green beans – have a mild flavor and are naturally low in fat, high in protein, high in fiber, minerals, B vitamins.  They require boiling to remove compounds and toxins that can cause “gas” and we were all glad that she took the appropriate precautions! To prepare your cannellini beans for your favorite recipes, soak them overnight, boil them for 10 minutes then simmer the beans for 1-2 hours or until tender.

This dish reminded me of my first trip to Italy.  It was a culinary tour and we enjoyed a delicious Tuscan bean soup in the town of Montacatini Terme.  

Aquacotta/ Tuscan Bean Soup with Winter Vegetables
Adapted from:  Marcella Hazan

6 oz of Pancetta
12 cups of water plus extra as needed
1 pound of dried cannellini beans
1 large onion unpeeled and halved, plus one onion chopped
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled plus
3 garlic cloves minced
1 bay leaf
Salt and Pepper
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil , plus extra for serving
2 small carrots diced
2 celery ribs
2 small leeks
6 oz of kale, stemmed and leaves cut into 1/2 inch strips
6 oz of escarole, stemmed and cut into 1/2 inch strips
6 oz of red potatoes diced medium
1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 sprig of rosemary
Slide basil for garnish
Toasted slices of Tuscan bread
Grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pancetta in a Dutch oven over medium heat until just golden, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Add water, beans, halved onion, unpeeled garlic, bay leaf, and 1 tsp of salt and bring to boil over medium high heat.  Cover pot partially, reduce heat to simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender,   about 1 ½ hours.  Remove form heat and let stand until beans are tender, about 30 minutes.

Drain beans, saving the cooking liquid.  Discard pancetta, onion, garlic and bay leaf.  Spread beans on a rimmed baking sheet to let cool.
Note:  You can also use canned beans.

While beans are cooling, heat oil in pot until shimmering, add carrots, celery, leeks, chopped onion and cook until softened, about 7 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook for 30 seconds, add enough water to reserved cooking liquid from the beans to equal 9 cups and add to the pot with kale and escarole.  Increase heat to medium high and bring to boil, cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add potatoes and tomatoes and cook until potatoes are tender about 20 minutes.  Add beans to pot and increase heat to medium high and bring to a simmer.  Submerge rosemary in liquid and let stand off heat for 15 to 20 minutes.  Discard rosemary and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Poach an egg into each soup serving by gently cracking an egg over the soup liquid and covering for a few minutes until softly poached.  Place toast into bowl, add soup and top with basil, egg, and grated parmesan cheese.

We also had a beautiful and delicious Crème Caramel prepared by Foodie (more on that later)….we are so lucky, this little group of ours.

Cannellini bean photo from google images.

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