A few years ago my family went to Italy and ever since then we have tried to adapt a style of Italian cooking. Our trip was amazing, we even learned how to cook from an old Italian woman. While this soup isn’t something learned from her, it is from an equally old and experienced Italian cook, Lidia.
Above: My sisters, mom and myself cooking in Italy.
One thing I learned on that trip is how to enjoy the little things. We had a bad experience with renting a car without GPS and not being able to use our cell phones while driving from Florence to Tuscany, what should have been a 1 1/2 hour drive took us 6 hours. I remember my younger sister sitting in the back seat of the car holding her rosary, we were so lost and so far out in the country of Italy that not many people spoke English. Getting directions was very difficult. 6 hours later we made it to the most beautiful hotel located just outside of Cortona. During the driving excursion, we drove through the most beautiful parts of Italy, but we were so stressed about being lost (and my dad, with no previous experience, driving a stick shift through the hills of Tuscany) that we didn’t bother to look around and enjoy our surroundings.
HIlls of Tuscany.
The breathtaking hotel, Villa di Piazzano.
Use that lesson when making this soup, it takes a while to cook down, but while it’s cooking, have a glass of wine, relax and enjoy your evening.
I know the recipe looks long, but I promise it’s very simple to make. The Soffritto in this soup really sets it apart, it’s not your standard plain white bean soup. This soup tastes like butter and has a smooth creamy texture. Like most of my recipes, it’s perfect for freezing and reheating later.
Garlicky White Bean Soup
Servings: 10, makes 3 quarts
Cooking the Beans
2½ cups dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight or quick-soaked
4 quarts water, cold, plus more if needed
3 bay leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1½ teaspoons salt, plus more if needed
For the Garlicky Soffritto
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, sliced
¼ teaspoon peperoncino
To prepare the beans: Soak beans overnight, or bring them to a boil in water and let sit for one hour, off the fire.
Cooking the Beans
Drain the soaked beans and put them in the pot with the water, bay leaves, and olive oil. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. When the water is at a full boil, set the cover ajar, adjust the heat to maintain a steady gentle boiling and cook for an hour more, until the beans are tender.
Stir in the salt, uncover and continue cooking at a bubbling boil for another hour or more, until the beans and broth have reduced to 3-quarts. Lower the heat as the liquid evaporates and the soup base thickens, stirring now and then to prevent scorching.
Flavoring the Base with the Soffrito
When the soup base is sufficiently reduced, make the soffritto. Heat the olive oil and the sliced garlic in a skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes or so, shaking the pan now and then, until the slices are sizzling. Drop in the peperoncino, stir with the garlic and cook another minute or until the garlic is just starting to color.
From the soup pot, ladle out a cup of the simmering bean broth and pour it into the skillet. Let it sizzle and start to boil, shake and stir up the soffritto, and cook it for a couple of minutes in the broth. Then pour it all back into the bean pot, scraping in every bit of the soffritto or just rinse the skillet out with more broth. Simmer the soup base for another 5 minutes, with the soffritto, then remove from the heat.
The base is ready for a finished soup now or let the whole pot cool; pick out the bay leaves and discard. Keep the soup refrigerated for 3 or 4 days or freeze, in filled and tightly sealed containers, for 4 to 6 months.
Garlicky White Bean and Kale Soup
serves: 4 servings
Make soup with any of the greens (and reds) in the chicory-endive family, including the various kinds of radicchio now in the markets, escarole, curly endive (or frisée) or Belgian endive as well as unrelated leafy vegetables such as Swiss chard, kale, spinach, or arugula. The procedure is the same though cooking times will vary.
6 cups garlicky white beans with broth, (See recipe above for Garlicky White Beans and Broth)
10 cups kale, rinsed and chopped in 3-inch pieces
½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat the broth to a boil, stir in the chopped greens, the salt, grinds of pepper, and return to a gentle boil. Cook covered for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the leaves are tender and wilted. If you want, cook uncovered for some or all the time to produce a thicker consistency. Taste and adjust the seasonings; serve hot in warm bowls, with freshly grated cheese, extra-virgin olive oil and other garnishes.