Jan 30, 2012

Tuscan White Bean and Bread Soup

Do you have food crushes? I certainly do. They're usually seasonal; for instance, every August, when heirloom tomatoes are all over the Greenmarket, that's all I want -- morning, noon and night. These days, it's white beans. The vegetarian and I have monthly dinner parties (called our monthly cooking adventures) in which I try out exciting new recipes (i.e. recipes that require more work than what I'd make for an average meal) and keep them as seasonal as humanly possible.

While at the Greenmarket (my favorite source of edible inspiration) shopping for our adventure, I found the largest carrots I'd ever seen. I love cooking with carrots (especially in soups); they provide an unexpected level of sweetness without ever having to add sugar. And it's a lovely counterbalance to beans' earthiness. Carrots are also one of those wonderful vegetables that, to me, always seem to add a layer of freshness, no matter how long you cook them.

And, because I'd be hard-pressed to cook without it, I used 8 cloves of garlic. Again, it seems like a lot but this soup was really not spicy at all. And with three monstrous carrots, the garlic just kept the soup in a savory world.

This soup is my take on a ribollita, a Tuscan soup made out of, primarily, white beans and day-old bread. Since I try very hard to avoid waste in my kitchen, I buy only as much bread as I need so day-old bread is something I try to avoid. But the good people at Cook's Illustrated understood my dilemma and suggested baking the bread to dry it out so that is exactly what I did and it worked beautifully. I also arrived at the Greenmarket too late for kale (the traditional green for ribollita) but there was lovely, spicy arugula so that's what we went with and it came out delicious. Serve with a salad and some Beaujolais Nouveau. Bon appetit!

Tuscan White Bean and Bread Soup
adapted from The Best International Recipe
Preheat oven to 300F. Spread out ciabatta cubes on a rimmed baking sheet and bake 30 minutes, until they have the consistency of day-old bread. Remove and set aside.

In a food processor, combine 1 can cannellini beans and 1/4 Pinot Grigio until mostly smooth (it's fine if there are a few lumps so long as there are no more whole beans). It should take no more than 30 pulses. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat until it runs like water. Add carrots, onions and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, 8 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook an additional 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and cook another 2 minutes. Add pureed beans, whole beans, remaining Pinot Grigio, water, arugula, potato and bay leaves. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 40 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in rosemary and 2 cups bread cubes. Cover and let stand 15 minutes. Discard rosemary sprig and bay leaves and give everything a good stir to combine. Taste and add black pepper and, if necessary, additional salt. 

Place a small handful of bread cubes at the bottom of each serving bowl. Ladle soup on top. Drizzle with lemon-garlic olive oil. Serve, passing Parmesan cheese around separately. Serves 8.

Links to other white beans, carrots and garlic delicacies:

Jan 27, 2012

White Bean, Sage and Roasted Garlic Spread

When the vegetarian and I first moved in together, I (like most omnivores adapting to a more vegetarian diet) worried that I'd never have enough protein in my diet. So I turned to legumes. Previously, I had only really cooked with lentils, which don't require soaking or too much advance preparation (in our lives, I often don't have time to plan dinner until it's 7pm and I've just gotten home and am suddenly very hungry). But lately I've been expanding my repertoire and have started cooking with other beans, including those that require soaking.

There seem to be two schools of thoughts on whether or not to soak beans. Basically, if you soak them they require a shorter cooking time. But if you factor in the 8-hours of soaking, well, then the total preparation time isn't actually shorter. For me, it depends on the day and whether or not I remembered to soak my beans when I got up in the morning. Yesterday, I didn't. So I soaked the beans for about three hours when I came home in the afternoon (while we enjoyed the new BBC Sherlock), then cooked them for 1h45. The puree was simple (it's a long cooking time but you can do other things while you wait) and, served with Parmesan Crostini, a perfectly simple meal to enjoy in front of television.

A note about garlic: the vegetarian and I both like very flavorful food, so I cook with a LOT of garlic. If you don't like it, feel free to limit the quantities. I will say, though, that white beans (especially Great Northerns) leave a pretty blank canvas so you can get away with rather strong flavors. And roasted garlic has a delightful sweetness. Try it -- you might be pleasantly surprised. Bon Appetit!

White Bean, Sage and Roasted Garlic Spread
(adapted from Chef Marcus Samuelsson)

  • 1.5 cups great Northern beans, soaked 8 hours or as long as you can
  • 7 cups water + 1/3 cup water
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Leaves from 1 stalk sage (about 10 leaves)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 1 drizzle olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon garlic-lemon olive oil (or your favorite flavored olive oil)
  • 2 pinches kosher salt
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • Parmesan Crostini
Place beans, 7 cups water, garlic cloves, sage and bay leaves in a large pot. Cover and simmer, over low heat, for 1 hour and 45 minutes (or until beans are cooked to your liking). Remove bay leaves and drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of bean-cooking water.

While beans are simmering, preheat oven to 350F. Peel off outermost layers of garlic heads, then cut off tops just to expose cloves. Place in an oven-safe earthenware roaster. Drizzle with olive oil and add 1/3 cup water. Cover and bake 45 minutes.

In a food processor, puree together bean/sage/garlic mixturecloves from roasted garlic and 1 tablespoon garlic-lemon olive oil. Add as much of the bean-cooking water as necessary to achieve the consistency of a spread. Stir in salt, black pepper and lemon juice. Serve with Parmesan Crostini.

Links to other white bean and garlic delicacies:

Jan 22, 2012

The Omnivore's Introduction

Growing up in a foodie family (my mother's a cookbook writer), food has always been a huge part of my life and I never imagined living with someone who didn't feel the same way. But fall in love with the Vegetarian I did and, after some frustrations and adjustments, we've created an almost-vegetarian home. Just as I first discovered during Passover, necessity is indeed the mother of invention and my cooking has become more interesting and, dare I say, better, since I've all-but taken meat out of the equation. And luckily for me, the Vegetarian is always willing to taste and (gently) critique my inventions. Now, we look forward to sharing our discoveries with you!

The Vegetarian's Introduction

As a vegetarian for my whole life, whose normal-eating family bemoaned my picky choices at restaurants and at family dinners, food has always been a heavy issue.  Since moving in with the Omnivore, I've been pleased to find my palate expanded with new tastes, flavors and textures that I never was open to in the past.  In this blog, we'll examine those dishes designed to suit us all and create new ones that will show that both meat-eaters and non-meat-eaters can not only coexist in the same kitchen, but can embrace a cuisine that will make us all see that such distinctions can be irrelevant!