Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tuscan White Bean Soup



It's snowing today which is a welcome change, so as they say, "it's beginning to look a lot like............. well, I imagine you can probably fill in the rest.
My contribution to a the monthly event called "The Heart of the Matter", is a creamy comforting Tuscan Cannelini Bean Soup. Ilva of the always visual and gustatory appealing site "Lucullian Delights" is one of the co founders and hosts of this months Quick and Easy theme. I noticed not too long ago, that Ilva made a similar soup, but I'm going to pass this on over to her anyway as beans are always a nutritious low fat choice and tasty too. Growing up in the quasi "south" of the US, white beans and ham hocks with greens and cornbread, were one of our family standards. I have to say I wasn't all that fond of the beans as a kid, but as my taste buds grew up, I grew to love beans as well. This Tuscan staple was a nice twist on a familiar food. The Tuscans have a reputation as being thrifty, "bean eaters" and their elimination of the ham bones and sparing use of olive oil makes it a tasty heart healthy choice. The addition of stale or toasted bread rubbed with fresh garlic lurking at the bottom of your bowl makes this hearty soup a wonderful warmer upper.

If you plan ahead, soak your cannellini beans overnight, drain off the water the next day, add fresh cold water , herbs, onions and garlic and cook till soft. Or......... If you are like me when you think that you want to have bean soup, you want it now and didn't think to soak the beans over night. No worries, this soup works whether you you plan ahead or not. I have made this soup in all of it's different planning stages and it comes out tasty all the different ways. I would say that the overnight soak is the tastiest, but using precooked tinned beans or the 1 hour soak in hot water, drain and cook in fresh water in a pressure cooker for about 1/2 an hour method is quite tasty also . The trick is to make sure you season up your beans, which ever variety you use and finish off with the garlic rubbed toasted bread and a small drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on top is a nice touch but you can definitely get by without it if you want to really limit your fat intake, or a few drops just to add a nice little dimension. Not in the normal Tuscan recipe, but sometimes I like a squeeze of lemon for an added zing or a few passes of the Grana Padano over the top for variations.

What you'll need for 4 or so servings. This recipe is easily doubled

2 cups dry cannellini beans, soaked over night
or soaked in hot water for an hour as discussed above or
2 large cans cooked cannellini beans, drained if you like

1 Tb olive oil more for garnish
1 medium onion, small chop
2 garlic cloves for the soup
2 large bay leaves
1 small twig of rosemary
a few fresh sage leaves

stale bread slices or lightly toasted, at least one per person per serving
1-2 fresh garlic , generously and firmly rubbed across the surface of the bread

In your soup pot or pressure cooker, saute your onions and garlic gently in the olive oil, being careful not to pick up any color, just to soften. Add your herbs, stir and add your beans. Add enough fresh water to cover and a bit more. Simmer till beans are soft, about an hour regular or less for the pressure cooker and canned beans. Remove the rosemary stem, bay leaves and sage leaves if they are large. Season with a small amount of salt and pepper, or low salt vegetable cubes if you like. Blenderize with a kitchen wand till smooth. Adjust seasonings. If you think you have too much water, drain some off and reserve and add as needed to make a creamy texture. Too dry, add more hot water to make a creamy soup but not too thick. If you don't have the kitchen wand then its into the blender or food processor. Serve immediately. If your soup cools down too much you an reheat it, just watch closely as it can scorch easily.

Place your prepared garlic toast one per bowl and cover in soup. Garnish with grated hard cheese if you like, chopped parsley for color, fresh cracked pepper and a drizzle of fruity olive oil over the top. Allow the soup to soften the bread some, if you use a crusty multi grained bread like I do sometimes. While the beans are soaking or simmering, enjoy a brisk walk in the snow knowing that you have a cozy soup waiting for you back home.

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