Monday, June 12, 2006

With Alberto, the first tropical depression of the season, breathing down our necks, it seemed a perfect day, albeit a little hot and humid, to put on a pot of soup. A package of heirloom cannelli beans from Rancho Gordo has been beckoning to me from the second shelf of the pantry for ages. Encouraged by a recent post from Heidi Swanson using Calypso beans to produce a pot of succulent soup, I ventured off in my own fumbling direction. The soup is on its final leg and the house is redolent with a subtle smoky scent from the teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika that I added to the mirapoix while it simmered away before joining the beans in their rich pot liquor. The beans will easily hold their own as is, but I think a chiffonade of baby spinach leaves tossed in just before serving along with a generous helping of freshly grated parmesan cheese will elevate this simple bean soup to an impressive plateau just right for dinner on a blustery, wet evening. I've a nice cabernet waiting to be uncorked that should make a fine accompaniment. Anyone in the neighborhood is welcome to stop by.
White Bean Soup
One pound cannellini beans cooked
with a chopped onion and 2 bay leaves
2 carrots diced
1 onion diced
2 stalks of celery diced
1 tsp smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 package fresh baby spinach, washed and slivered(chiffonade)
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Wash and sort beans, cover with water and rest overnight (if using canned beans rinse off thoroughly before proceeding from * and use broth instead of water to add some flavor)
Cook beans along with a chopped onion in dutch oven. Add filtered or bottled water to cover beans by at least one inch (maintain this level while cooking).
Beans will require at least 2 hours to become fairly soft. Meanwhile saute the diced onion, carrot and celery (mirapoix) add a little broth or water and cover to finish cooking along with the spoon full of smoked paprika. After beans have cooked for a couple of hours, * add mirapoix, finish cooking beans until they are fork tender then add salt and pepper to taste. DO NOT ADD SALT TO BEANS AS THEY COOK. Remove bay leaves. Puree a couple of cups of the soup either in a blender or use an immersion blender, to give the soup some added body. Just before serving, add the chiffonade of spinach, give it a few minutes to wilt. Ladle soup into individual bowls and serve with a generous helping of grated cheese.
I was browsing through Elizabeth David's, French Country Cooking over the weekend and that probably provided the impulse to make the simple bean soup. The famous chef and food writer wrote: "Good cooking is honest, sincere and simple, and by this I do not mean to imply that you will find in this, or indeed in any other book, the secret of turning out first-class food in a few minutes with no trouble. Good food is always a trouble and its preparation should be regarded as a labor of love."
And speaking of a labor of love, I've just started reading Bill Buford's book, Heat. Buford, author,editor, amateur cook and food lover, joined Mario Batali at his famous restaurant, Babbo, working as a kitchen slave and lived to tell the tale in this newly released volume. The first few chapters give promise to a wonderfully humorous and enlightening look at the behind the scenes workings of a fabulous 3 star New York eatery along with the inside scoop on one of today's most prominent young chefs, with an illuminating exploration of why food matters. Can't wait to get back to it.
I was fortunate to follow up on a recent compelling book review for Ivan Doig's The Whistling Season. Here's another wonderful author that I'd never read. Whistling Season is his 11th novel. Why I hadn't been introduced to him before now is a mystery but I'm happy to report this volume is a wonderful story set at the turn of the century in the plains of Montana. Oops...that's the turn of the last century, of course! Doig reminds me of Wallace Stegner. If you haven't read Stegner's prize winning Angle of Repose, put it on your must read list.
The rain appears to have let up for the moment. Time to puree the soup and walk the dog. Hope everyone keeps dry. Till next time...keep on cooking!

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