we have had some absolutely gorgeous ‘winter’ days here in texas lately. somewhere between 65-75 degrees and sunny constitutes a near perfect day in my book. although we don’t have as many of those here as my days in california, i do love them more than because they are now precious and few. with this sunny and clear weather, we also have some pretty chilly nights, hovering somewhere just above freezing. the first culinary thought that comes to mind during this time of year is a big batch of homemade soup. i love making soup and pasta e fagioli (literally ‘pasta and beans’) is one of my faves.
learning how to make soup is more of a method than a following a recipe. you can make a soup thicker by cooking it down without a lid, pureeing a portion of the ingredients in a blender, food processor or by hand, or adding a ‘slurry’ of flour mixed with water. and you can thin a soup by just adding some more water or stock back into the pot. you can make soup out of just about anything; veggies, meat, beans. the most important thing is to just use the freshest and best ingredients you can afford. and when you combine that with a few do-ahead activities (such as making your own stock and beans), the results are phenomenal.
i did hear the collective groan with the mention of these (supposedly) labor- intensive jobs, but in reality, the stock takes about 30 minutes–make it on the weekend and keep in freezer in 1-2 cup portions–and the beans took just just over 2 hours, mostly inactive and i made them the day before. after picking through 1lb of dried great northern beans to get rid of any rocks or old shriveled up beans, i covered them in cold water and used the quick soak method of preparing them to cook. then i covered them with fresh water and cooked them without a lid after adding 1/2 a chopped onion and a few bay leaves.
this what your beans look like after you cook them for about 45 minutes-1 hour:
get your ‘porky trinity’ ready (onion, garlic, bacon):
i also added a bit of celery and sauteed it all in the bacon fat which had been rendered. if you watch anne burrell on the food network, she’ll tell you what we’ve all known for years, that “brown food is good food”. so true, and so this pot of goodness stayed on low to medium heat about 5 more minutes before the tomato paste and stock were added.
add your homemade stock like this:
then you will add the remaining ingredients over the next 10-15 minutes. with some do-ahead prep all told you’ve been in the kitchen for less than 45 minutes.
pasta e fagioli (adapted from gourmet)
- 2 slices of bacon, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped fine
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 small rib of celery, chopped fine
- 1 carrot, sliced thin
- 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 cups fresh cooked white beans or 1-16 oz can white beans rinsed and drained
- 2-3 TBSP tomato paste
- 1/3 cup tubetti or other small tubular pasta, like shells or elbows
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
- freshly grated Parmesan and good quality olive oil as an accompaniment
in an unheated heavy saucepan cook the bacon over low-medium heat, stirring, until it is crisp-the cold pan and low heat will allow all the fat to render off the meat–i.e. melt and flavor the rest of your dish. pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat, and in the remaining fat cook the onion and the garlic and celery, stirring, until softened. add the tomato paste and stir for about 1 minute, then add the carrot and the broth and simmer the mixture, covered, for 5 minutes. in a bowl mash 1/3 cup of the beans, stir them into the bacon mixture with the remaining whole beans, and simmer the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. stir in the tubetti, simmer the soup, covered, for 10 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente, and if desired thin the soup with water. check pot every few minutes and add water or broth as needed-you don’t want it to run out and scorch your dinner. let the soup stand off the heat, covered, for 5 minutes, stir in the parsley, and serve the soup in bowls sprinkled with the parmesan and drizzled with some of your best olive oil.
yesterday was rocket’s birthday. he slept through most of it, but did manage to get a few treats down, however.