Dear Michael Chiarello, I apologize. I've been critical of you in the past. Not about your looks. Never about your looks. I've complained that while your recipes are delicious, they always take much longer to prepare than expected. Well, today I made your Tuscan White Bean Soup, With Pesto and it was very easy to make. I didn't wind up spending hours in the kitchen, muttering epithets about you or picturing you drawn and quartered in a vineyard. This was a lovely recipe and the soup was delicious. Since there's basil in it, I think it makes a good submission for Weekend Herb Blogging, which was created by Kalyn at Kalyn's Kitchen, but hosted this week by Kate at Thyme For Cooking.
Each year during spring I begin thinking a great deal about two items for my garden: Tomatoes and basil. I love to plant different basil plants, to use in cooking and for their beauty in the garden. Purple and green colored basil looks lovely planted with flowers. This recipe calls for pesto which, according to Wikipedia, comes from Genoa, Italy. In the summer I always try to make pesto in bulk. It's easily frozen in cubes and will retain its wonderful flavor for months in the freezer. The cubes can then be tossed into soups, stews, or other recipes.
The recipe is simple to make, however there is one step that might seem time consuming and unnecessary. The veggies and beans are pureed in a food processor and passed through a fine mesh strainer. I almost skipped straining it, because the soup tasted fine right after it was pureed. However, I decided to see if straining the soup improved the taste, and it certainly did taste better. It took me less than 5 minutes to strain it and the result was a remarkably creamy soup. The final step was stirring in cooked garlic and basil.
This soup can be served as shown here, or small, tube shaped cooked pasta can be mixed in just before serving. Mushrooms or cubed grilled vegetables would taste good, as well. This soup can be made a day in advance, but will need to be thinned out with stock or water. It's very, very good.
Tuscan White Bean Soup, With Pesto
For the beans:
1 pound dried cannellini beans (or 4, 15 ounce cans of cannellini beans, drained)
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto (or use porcini mushrooms)
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 celery rib, quartered
1 carrot, quartered
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1 bay leaf
1 quart chicken stock
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Finely ground sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
6 grilled or toasted bruschetta (rustic bread slices toasted in the oven until brown)
1/4 cup basil pesto
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. If using canned beans, drain them and skip to step 4 below. Add them and cook for
about 5 minutes on low until heated through. Then follow directions to puree them in the
food processor. I used canned beans and the soup was delicious.
2. If using dry beans: Precook the beans: Place the beans in a saucepan and add cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, cover, and remove from the heat. Let stand for 1 hour, then drain.
3. Return the beans to the saucepan along with the prosciutto, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and bay leaf. Add the chicken stock plus enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Slowly bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. (If you heat them too fast, the skins may break.) Adjust the heat to maintain a bare simmer and cook, uncovered, until the beans are almost tender, 20 minutes or longer, depending on the age of the beans. Add salt to taste and continue cooking until the beans are tender but not mushy. Remove from the heat and let cool in the liquid. (You can prepare the beans to this point 1 to 2 days ahead; cover and refrigerate.)
4. Strain the beans and other solids (reserve the cooking liquid). In a food processor, puree the bean and solids in batches with 3 ý cups of the cooking liquid and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Using a rubber spatula, push the bean mixture through a fine sieve into a large saucepan (you should have about 6 cups of soup in the saucepan). Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste and bring it to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
5. Meanwhile, in a small skillet over high heat, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the garlic to the skillet and cook until it begins to turn brown, stirring occasionally. Add the red pepper flakes and cook for a few seconds, then add the basil. Cook until basil wilts. Add the mixture to the soup. Taste the soup again for seasonings.
To serve, ladle the hot soup into bowl. Float a bruschetta on top of each bowl. Spoon a big drop of pesto into the soup. Garnish with a sprinkling of cheese.