For those of you who live in New York, you will have noticed that yesterday was quite an anomaly of a normal summer day. It was rainy, breezy and cold. Mother nature was certainly lending herself to a more autumn feel. After taking about a 20 minute walk and enduring the dreary drizzle, I was really craving some soup. Since I have been making a lot of potato based soups recently, I wanted to try something a bit different and not so heavy and thick. When I was younger I used to enjoy white bean soup. The problem is that a lot of white bean soups are made with ham hocks or some sort of pork to make them a bit salty and well, meatier. Since this isn’t an option for me and I needed some inspiration, I turned to the Food Network. Michael Chiarello has a great recipe for Super Tuscan White Bean Soup. While he does include a tiny bit of prosciutto, the soup has enough hearty flavors that it doesn’t quite need the pork. The special addition to this recipe is the basil topping. I really enjoyed not only making this, but devouring it in big spoonfuls in my soup. I would use it for any kind of topping from bruschetta to pasta and maybe even a dressing for salad.
Tuscan White Bean Soup
3 cans white Cannellini beans
1 celery stock, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 vidalia onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
1 quart vegetable stock
1 tablespoon cream (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup toasted pinenuts
salt and pepper to taste
Start by sauteing the chopped onion, garlic, carrot and celery in a large stock pot on medium heat. When the vegetables are softened and the onion is looking translucent, add in the beans. Be sure to strain the beans before you add them to the stock pot. Beans usually sit in a very salty gooey liquid that you don’t really want in your soup. To be sure they’re clean, strain them and then rinse them with water. After the beans are added, add the vegetable stock , bring to a boil and then simmer for about 40 minutes. During this time, the flavors of the soup will come together and the vegetables will be soft enough to blend into a creamier concoction.
While the soup is simmering, make the basil topping. In a separate pan, add the olive oil and saute the garlic. You don’t want to burn the garlic because that will make it bitter, so be sure to saute just until the garlic is lightly browned. Then add the red pepper flakes. Don’t be intimidated by these bad boys. I’ve never cooked with them before but they add a great kick that the soup really needs. Don’t skip them. Now stir in the basil. At this point, the oil is hot enough that it will actually fry the basil. As the basil wilts, it becomes surprisingly crispy and delicate. After a few minutes, add the toasted pinenuts, stir together and pour into a separate container.
Once that is finished, it will probably be time to finish the soup. Take out your trusty food processor and blend the beans, veggies and vegetable broth. Be sure to not over-blend. I really enjoy the soup with some beans still whole, so when you blend you don’t just get a thick beany broth. Once the consistency is relatively smooth, pour the mixture back into the stock pot on the stove. It is at this point that you should season the soup. Add in salt, pepper and the thyme. If you want to add cream, this is your chance. I don’t really think the cream is necessary though since the soup is already so nice and creamy from the starch of the beans.
To serve the soup, pour a bowlful and top it with a slice of your favorite toasted bread. Then take a spoonful of the basil spread and top the crustini. Dip, mix, slurp and enjoy!
While I do credit Michael Chiarello with this recipe, I’d like to point out a few differences. Firstly in the soup, I did not have a bay leaf or prosciutto. These two ingredients definitely add a lot of flavor. In order to counter those missing ingredients, I used some extra salt and some thyme. To recreate that chewy bite from the prosciutto, I added pinenuts into the basil topping. The pinenuts add a wonderful crunch to the otherwise smooth consistency of the soup. I especially enjoy their nutty flavor. It works very well with the flavor of the beans. Michael also suggests using dried beans. Sorry Michael, that really seems to require too much energy when I can just as easily use canned beans! Of course you can use the dried ones, but for convenience, the canned ones are an obvious plus.
This soup is definitely my favorite of the ones I’ve made. Even today, now that it’s warm and sunny, it is still a perfect lunch. Even though the beans are starchy and creamy, a consistency that usually lends itself to something more stick to your ribs, they create a soup that is a lot more refreshing but is equally as sumptuous as a potato based soup. I really hope you try to recreate this recipe at some point. You will love it!