Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bean Soup - A three day love affair.

Bean soup is one of those things that I like to make but never want to eat. There's something so dull about the sound of bean soup. As if the mere fact that there is so little bad in it makes it unworthy of attention.
But oh how I love making it. It's the soaking thing you see. Soaking the beans. Which means bean soup almost always starts the night before. And really it starts because I start cooking and I see a half packet of white beans/cannellini beans (why always a half packet?) and I feel like such sensible, sturdy,reliable fare should be used. They are cheap! They are wholesome! They are low fat. They take ages to prepare. All of these things resonate with me you see. I am in my farmhouse kitchen and winter's comin' and I'm making a pot of beans...
And the first step is so easy. Pop them in a big glass bowl, cover with tons of water, and soak overnight, or all day - whatever.
The next day they are plump but hard and ready (like some sort of softcore porn novel).
I rinse them, put them in a decent size baking dish (if I was smart this would be the same dish I soaked them in, but sadly no) and then I throw in a tomato, a clove of garlic and some fresh herbs - ones I like are thyme and marjoram and parsley and sage. Then I pop it into an oven, turn the oven to 350F and leave for about an hour and a half. When they are done they could just be eaten on their own with some seasoning, maybe a little olive oil?
But I like to make bean soup. That's what us sturdy, sensible, reliable and cheap people do. Us lazy people too.
However, you may be shocked to find that once again I put the beans back in the fridge. You see here is the problem. All this cooking makes me hungry. Quickly. And then I must eat. And I do. So by the time I'm ready to move onto the next stage, well I'm full and a little sleepy and want to go lie on the couch and watch old episodes of NCIS.
But the next day dinner is literally fast food. Saute up a half an onion until soft, then throw in the garlic clove from the beans and some pancetta (normally stored in the freezer for just such an emergency). I chop up one single ripe tomato (seeds, skins, the whole lot) and throw that in as well and let it cook down until we have a sort of tomatoey onion and pancetta paste. Tomato is much better if cooked fro long periods of time. It gets sweeter and more intense. Then I toss in the beans WITH the cooking water and add some chicken stock. Nothing fancy, a chicken stock cube with some hot water does just fine. If I have things like broad beans or green beans in the freezer, then handfuls of those go in too.
Boil quite fiercely so the white beans go a little mushy and give the soup some heft. Season carefully. Pancetta is salty and I almost alway add salt when I saute my onions so there is very little needed at the end. The trick is to check the seasoning of the broth, not the vegetable (at least not until they have all cooked together for a good 20 minutes). If it is a wee bit salty then a whole bunch of chopped parsley rescues you, and is lovely and fresh too.

And there you have it. It takes me 3 days to make bean soup. But I am eating it now and even though I have spilt some down my new and most favourite blouse, it was worth it!

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