Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tuscan White Bean Soup

This smooth soup or velouté is the height of simplicity nevertheless any diner eating it will ask you for the recipe because its taste is soothing and delicious. You can find this recipe and a couple of hundreds more in my new book The Best Soups in the World. Tuscans favor a variety of small white navy beans, called cannellini beans, and use them to make a thicker version of this soup into a spread for crostini (toast points) as an antipasto. If you leave the carrot out, the soup will be whiter.
1 cup (1/2 pound) dried white beans
1 leafy sprig fresh sage
Salt to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fennel bulb (optional)
For the garnish (choose 1)
Twelve 1-inch squares thinly sliced pancetta, cooked until crispy
1 cup croûtons, fried in olive oil until golden
1/2 cup cooked tiny shrimp
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1. Place the beans in a pot with 1 sprig sage and cover with water by several inches, but first pull off two leaves of sage from the sprig and set aside for later. Bring to a boil over high heat, salt lightly, and then cook at a boil until tender, about 1 1/2 hours, replenishing the water when necessary.
2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, then cook, stirring, the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, and fennel, if using, until soft, about 6 minutes.
3. Drain the beans, saving 4 cups of the cooking liquid. Place the beans in a blender with the vegetables from the skillet and 4 cups of the cooking liquid. Blend until smooth. Transfer to a clean pot, add the 2 leaves of sage, and turn the heat to low. Cook until bubbling and hot, about 5 minutes. Serve hot with one of the garnishes.
Makes 4 servings

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Soups from the Mediterranean

Paparòt is an interesting spinach soup from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the region of northeastern Italy, and is far more exciting than its humble list of ingredients would indicate. It’s a spinach soup made with fine cornmeal flour used as a thickening agent. Paparòt, in the dialect of Friuli, means “pulped” used as a noun (in other words “pulped soup”) and indicates that the spinach is treated like a pesto but is pulped by chopping rather than pounding in a mortar. The kind of cornmeal to use is the one used for polenta, and I prefer the slightly coarser one because I enjoy the resulting gruel-like texture. The taste is surprisingly rich and filling.

The recipe is in my latest book THE BEST SOUPS IN THE WORLD