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Bring the beans: Fall into the start of soup season

Oct 2nd, 2012 | Category: Cooking

by Jessamyn Tuttle

I always look forward to the cooler weather of autumn as an opportunity to get back to making soups and braises and roasts. This year, of course, summer seems to be hanging on a lot longer than usual, so I’m contenting myself with planning out in my head all the different things I’ll make when it finally cools off. Number one on the list is bean soup.

French lentil soup. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

There’s no end to the number of bean soups you can make, with recipes from all over the world. Minestrone, chili (unless you’re from Texas), lentil, split pea, curried dal, pureed white bean…so many variations. They’re cheap, filling, nutritious, and taste even better on their second or third day. They’re also an excellent vehicle for pork products like ham, bacon or sausage, for those who like such things, as well as leafy greens of all sorts – a bean soup is a great place to use strong-tasting greens like escarole or kale. I often make a big pot of soup in the morning, then let it sit and meld in the fridge for the rest of the day before reheating it for an easy dinner. My two favorite soups to make at home are French lentil (with or without meat) and pasta e fagioli (often called pasta fazool in the United States), and I make them over and over again throughout the fall and winter.

If you know a farmer who grows them, I highly recommend using fresh shelling beans that haven’t been dried. They don’t need soaking, and their flavor is brighter and greener than dry beans. Borlotti beans, also called cranberry beans, are particularly wonderful, but I also like flageolet and cannellini. If you do have a source for fresh beans, I recommend buying a lot of them in the autumn while they’re in season, shelling them out and freezing them raw to use in soups later in the winter. Otherwise, if you’re using regular dried beans, soaking in salt water for about 8 hours really works well (unsalted water works fine, but the salt helps soften the skins). Rinse thoroughly before cooking. I’ve made pasta fazool with both fresh and dried borlotti, cannellini, navy beans, calypso, and orca beans, and all of them have been good – feel free to experiment!

Also, don’t underestimate the power of stock. I made soups for years with water as the only liquid, but when I started using chicken or vegetable stock it improved the soups exponentially. Homemade is always best, I think, but a good storebought stock will also add depth and character, as the beans and noodles absorb all its savoriness. Soup made like this, with layers of flavor, makes a great one-bowl meal to warm you on a cold day.

Pasta Fazool. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

More of a Southwest-style chicken and bean soup than a chili, the white chili recipe is one you can really play around with. It’s particularly good if you grill the peppers and corn, then add them at the last minute, or you can skip the peppers entirely and add pureed tomatillos instead, or a can of salsa verde if you’re in a rush. I like to eat this with a cheese quesadilla on the side.

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta Fazool)

Ingredients

1 cup white beans, or other good soup beans like borlotti

1 bay leaf

2 carrots, cut into small dice

1 stalk celery, cut into small dice

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 pound bulk sausage, hot or sweet

stock or water

1 cup macaroni noodles

one head escarole (optional), roughly chopped

Directions

If using dried beans: Eight hours before, soak the beans in a bowl of water with a large spoonful of salt mixed in. Before cooking, rinse them thoroughly.

Put the soaked or fresh shell beans into a saucepan with the bay leaf and cover with water. Bring just to a boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for an hour or until tender. Cooking time will depend on how old and crotchety your beans are.

Saute the carrots, celery and garlic in olive oil in a soup pot. Add the sausage and cook until the pink is gone (or you can cook the sausage in a separate pan if you want to skim off some of the fat). Add the beans and their cooking liquid, then add stock or water until there’s plenty of liquid in the pan. Bring it all to a boil, add the noodles and cook until they’re as done as you like. Add salt if desired. Stir in the escarole and cook for another five minutes, or until completely softened.

Eat right away, or stick into the fridge for later reheating. The longer it sits, the better it tastes.

French Lentil soup with Pasta

Ingredients

2 cups French lentils, rinsed and picked over (you could use regular brown lentils but French give a much nicer texture, I think)

2 carrots, cut into very small dice

5 cloves garlic, sliced

2 bay leaves

½ cup red wine (optional)

stock and/or water

one tomato, chopped or grated

salt and pepper

5 oz pasta, such as farfalle or rotini

one bunch spinach, cleaned and torn into pieces

Directions

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot. Add the carrots and garlic and cook, stirring, until lightly golden. Stir in the lentils and bay leaves, then add red wine (if using) and allow to reduce. Add stock or water to cover, bring to a simmer and let cook, covered, until the lentils are tender, 30 minutes to an hour.

If the lentils have absorbed their liquid, top up the pot with more stock or water, add the tomato and some salt and pepper, and bring back to a boil. Stir in the pasta and let cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Stir in the spinach and let it wilt. Taste for seasoning, serve.

This soup is also very good with chunks of well-browned cased Italian sausage stirred in at the last minute.

White Chili

Ingredients

1 cup white beans, soaked

2 Tbsp olive oil

one sweet onion, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, sliced

4 poblanos or other moderately spicy green peppers, finely sliced

1 pound boneless chicken thigh meat, chopped into small pieces

2 tsp cumin seed

1 tsp kosher salt

half a can of beer (optional)

stock or water

1 cup corn kernels, fresh or cooked

fresh cilantro, chopped

Directions

Cook the beans until tender, about an hour (depending on the beans). Set aside, do not drain.

Slowly sauté the onion in the olive oil. When it’s soft add the garlic and continue to cook until lightly golden. Add the cumin and peppers and cook until soft. Stir in the chicken meat and salt and cook until the chicken is mostly white, then pour in the beer if using and simmer briefly to cook off the alcohol. Add stock and/or water to cover, bring to a simmer and let bubble, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is fully cooked. Stir in the beans and their cooking liquid, plus the corn kernels. Bring back to a simmer, taste for seasoning, then remove from the heat and serve, with cilantro to garnish.

Published in the October 2012 issue of Grow Northwest.

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