Although I love the spring and summer soups of Provence — chilled melon soup, chilled roasted red pepper soup and bouillabaisse, when the weather turns chilly, I gravitate to the heartier soups of Italy. Even the names of these soups — minestrone, ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, pasta e fagioli conjure the warmth and aromas of a Tuscan kitchen.
Tuscan home cooking is always seasonal and beans have long-held a prominent place on the regional table, especially during the colder months when the kitchen garden is bare.
Cannellini beans, favored by Tuscan “nonnas,” are white kidney beans. They are easily stored and provide an inexpensive, low-fat, high source of protein. Originally grown in South America by Italian immigrants, the beans were then taken back to Italy where they became a recipe staple.
Late fall is also the time to harvest and use hardier greens — escarole, Swiss chard and broccoli rabe. While at the farmers’ market last week, I channeled my inner Italian and grabbed several bunches of colorful rainbow Swiss chard. There is no more delicious and comforting way to use these simple ingredients — beans and greens — than in a Tuscan White Bean Soup. Although my recipe uses Swiss chard, feel free to substitute escarole, kale or spinach, all of which will work equally well.
Tuscan White Bean Soup with Swiss Chard
1 cup dried cannellini beans (or Great Northern beans) or use 2 – 15 oz cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, scrubbed and diced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 quart chicken stock, preferably homemade or vegetable broth
1 large bunch Swiss Chard, leaves torn, stems chopped
4 TBSP olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
If using dried beans, rinse the beans and remove and foreign particles. In a large pot, cover beans with cold water and soak in the fridge overnight. Drain the beans, reserving 1 cup of the soaking liquid.
In the large pot, heat 2 TBSP olive oil. Add chopped onion, celery, carrots and garlic and sweat over low heat until onions are soft and translucent. Add drained beans, bay leaf and chicken (or vegetable) stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered, until beans are soft but still retain their shape.
Depending upon your preferred soup consistency, add more stock or reserved bean soaking liquid.
Add Swiss chard and simmer until wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Ladle soup into warm bowls, sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and serve with a salad and crusty bread.