Ah, autumn. Who doesn’t enjoy a bowl of soup on a chilly evening, dreaming of crisp leaves underfoot, the honk of migrating geese in the sky, and the pleasant smell of a wood fire?
No one here in Israel does. Summer’s day hath all too long a lease around here, and we survive with air conditioning. Only windy evenings bring relief from the heat outdoors, reminding us not to give up hope. We’ll move into rainy winter sometime.
But the weather doesn’t affect love of soup. There’s something soothing about soup; maybe it’s because you’re eating a meal with a spoon, which gives you leisure for thoughts to drift off, while on another level, you’re enjoying the flavors of something delicious.
Or not. Sometimes you just want some good soup, preferably with good bread.
Looking through the jars where I keep grains and pulses, I found about a cup of cannellini beans. I knew right away that they were going to make soup. A mildly Mediterranean-flavored soup, with a little sage, a little cumin, and a leafy green.
So I picked the beans over, rinsed them, and set them to soak in plenty of fresh water overnight.
This morning, I put the beans to work. Obviously, it’s faster to just open a can of beans and start from there. It’s no great culinary sin to do that. But if you love cooking from scratch and organize the time, it’s so worth cooking dried beans. The flavor is heartier than the faint promise of any canned bean.
I put the soaked beans in a medium-sized pan with all their water, adding more water to make a quart. If you keep in mind that a quart is four cups, you can judge this by eye. Two small, unpeeled garlic cloves went into the pot, with a bay leaf and a dollop of olive oil. Brought it all to a boil, then covered the pot and lowered the heat to let the beans simmer.
And I let them cook for two hours, stirring them from time to time when I remembered to, checking the heat to make sure they were neither boiling away nor just sitting there, but simmering.
When the beans were creamy and soft, I prepared the sofrito.
Here, I go off on a tangent: sofrito. My Latina mother taught me to cook a mixture of aromatic vegetables and seasonings in fat – olive oil, in our house – to flavor beans. Sofrito always has onions and garlic. Usually tomatoes. Often green or red bell peppers. A bay leaf, salt, pepper, cumin, ground coriander, and chili to taste. Mom never added turmeric or curry to the sofrito, but I sometimes do.
You gently fry all these chopped vegetables with their seasonings for a few minutes, until it all forms a fragrant, cohesive mass. Then you remove some of the beans from their pot,
and mash them into the sofrito.
This thickens the beans. Mom taught me to do this for a pot of plain beans. I also like the texture the floury mashed beans give to soup.
I hungered for something green in this bean soup, and there was Swiss chard in the fridge. It could have been kale, or any other leafy green. Into the pot went a cup of chopped chard, and so did a sage leaf. The beans and chard cooked separately while the sofrito melded in the frying pan.
Next I tipped the sofrito into the soup and stirred it all up. Tasted for seasoning and added small amounts of salt and pepper until I was satisfied. Fished out the unpeeled cloves of garlic.
Once soup and sofrito are cooking along together, let them continue to know each other on the heat for at least another half hour, if not a full hour. Check the water level once or twice. If you think the soup is getting dry, add water at the beginning of this final cooking period.
It’s easy cooking. The soup needs 15 minutes to prep, and those minutes are spread over 12 hours of mostly passive time: overnight soaking plus three hours on the stove. So you see, it needs planning but doesn’t demand a lot of activity. And it’s a flavorsome, rich-tasting soup. Inexpensive, full of protein and things that are good for you. And so pareve, it’s even vegan.
Unless you choose to top your bowl of bean soup with some grated cheese.
Serve with buttered bread, cornbread or warm biscuits.
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