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:

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