Monday, October 17, 2011

Tuscan white bean soup

All you cooks out there will appreciate the fact that I brought home this heel rind of a chunky piece of Parmigianno Reggiano cheese that we consumed during our last week in Tuscany. I had plans for it. I actually declared it on our customs form and told the inspector my intentions of making a white bean soup with it. I'm quite certain that he was amused. When this cheese rind is cooked along with a soup it releases all its cheesy and salty flavors. Another depth of smokey flavor I routinely use in this soup is diced pancetta, but I saw a fine looking smoked ham hock at the market and couldn't resist. So into the pot it went along with the ingredients you see in the photo. I added chicken stock and let it all simmer away for a few hours, then served a bowl of the final soup with grated Romano cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Mmm mmm good.

+ + +

This soup has morphed over the years—a mix of several recipes combined—but the bones of it originally came from a recipe I once tried in Cooks Illustrated magazine. Credit where credit is due. A couple of notes: Homemade chicken stock is best (Save those rotisserie chicken carcasses and "stock up" your freezer!) but of course a quality canned stock works fine. The beans will have much more texture if you use dried beans, but in a pinch, go ahead and use canned—Goya brand is good. For a rich smoky flavor, use pancetta, bacon, or even liquid smoke. I once made this soup after Easter using a Honey Baked Ham bone and it was absolutely delicious. Once I forgot to buy pancetta, but instead added in diced rosemary ham (thick slices, from the deli) at serving. I generally add in kale or spinach leaves just before serving. Oh the possibilities.

2 thick slices of pancetta, diced,
     (or a smoked ham hock, if you can find one)
1 large onion, chopped
5 or so garlic cloves, minced
2 ribs celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
5-6 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade!)
1 bag of cannellini beans, soaked overnight
     (or 3 cans, rinsed well and drained)
3-4 plum tomatoes, largely chopped,
     (or a large can of peeled tomatoes)
1 bay leaf
couple sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 rind from Parmigianno Reggiano cheese
Grated Parmigianno Reggiano for sprinkling on at the end

Once your ingredients all all chopped and prepped, the soup will come together quickly. In a large pot or dutch oven, brown the pancetta until crisp and fat is rendered. Taste. Quality control, right? With a slotted spoon, remove pancetta to a plate and reserve. Remove all but about 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot, then toss in the onion, celery, and carrots. Sauté over medium heat until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for about a minute, being careful not to burn it. Add pancetta back to pot, along with the rest of the ingredients—the chicken stock, beans, tomatoes, and bay leaf, rosemary sprigs, and PR cheese rind (if you have one). Partially cover the pot and simmer for about an hour or two. Remove rosemary, bay leaf and PR cheese rind, and then taste the soup. Add salt if needed, and plenty of fresh cracked pepper. To serve, ladle soup into bowl and sprinkle with grated cheese and a swirl of extra virgin olive oil. I usually serve garlic toasts with this on the side. Lightly rub a thick slice of toasted bread with a garlic clove, then drizzle good olive oil over it. Hope you try this recipe—if you do, let me know how it comes out, ok?


  1. Jean Hatch TierneyOctober 18, 2011 at 6:59 PM

    Hi Diane!! I seriously want to comment on EVERY one of your posts but I usually view it from my iPhone and it doesn't offer that option! So today I am looking at it on my computer because I would LOVE the recipe to this soup! I looked on the internet for something similar but none of them included the rind of parmesan which to me, makes it divine!!! Your trip to Italy looked awesome and when we go someday I am going to ask for your itinerary so we can go to all the places that you went! XOXO!! See you soon! Jean

  2. Thanks Jean,
    I'll post the recipe tomorrow!


Type your comments here. If you don't have any of the accounts listed, select "Name/URL" and just put your name. Thanks!