On my last few reconnaissance trips to the freezer, I have come across 3 large containers of a fennel-Parmesan broth I made with Parmesan rinds and fennel stalks leftover after I’d used the bulbs for something else. And the large bunch of chard was getting old. There were dried beans in the cupboard. Time to make soup.
- 1/2 pound dried white beans, sorted and rinsed
- 1 lemon, halved
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 2 to 3 carrots, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- Kosher salt
- 6 to 8 cups broth such as fennel-Parmesan broth (see notes below)
- 2 bay leaves
- Several large sprigs fresh, flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 pound (about 2 cups) roasted, cubed winter squash
- 6 ounces (about 3/4 cup) roasted, peeled, sweet or mildly spicy red bell pepper, torn into long shreds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons zahtar (see notes below) or dried thyme, or 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh thyme
- 1 large cayenne pepper (see notes below)
- 6 whole allspice berries
- 1 large whole star anise
- About 20 black peppercorns
- 1 bunch fresh greens such as chard, spinach, mustard greens, or rapini, roughly chopped
- Good quality extra-virgin olive oil
- Soak the dried beans in cold water to cover overnight. Or, if like me, you didn’t plan to make soup, fill a tea kettle with water and bring it to a boil. Pour it over the beans in a large bowl, add the halved lemon, and let soak about an hour (take the dog for a walk meanwhile).
- In a pressure cooker or large, heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and a good pinch of salt. Cook until vegetables have softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure they are not sticking or browning.
- Drain and rinse the beans and add them to the pot with the bay leaves, parsley, squash, bell peppers, zahtar, cayenne pepper (broken into several pieces), allspice, star anise, and peppercorns. Add water, if needed, to make sure the beans have plenty of liquid.
- Secure the lid on the pressure cooker and bring to high pressure over high heat. When it comes up to pressure, lower the heat to maintain the temperature, and cook 10 minutes. Let the pot cool down on its own. If using a conventional soup pot, cover it, and bring the soup to a simmer over high heat. Lower the heat and simmer gently until the beans are just shy of tender, about 45 minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt and simmer until beans are tender and cooked through.
- When the lid unlocks, taste a bean to see if it is done. It should be just tender. Add 1 teaspoon salt or to taste and simmer the soup 10 minutes to cook the salt flavor into the beans.
- Stir in the greens to just wilt. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and possibly a little lemon juice. Serve in warm soup plates and drizzle with olive oil.
- The soup can be refrigerated and reheated; in fact, like most soups, its flavor improves with a little (a day or two, not a week) age. Freeze for longer storage.
You can use canned beans. Drain and rinse them. Then you are only cooking the soup to blend the flavors.
Minestrone often includes pasta but we’re making more gluten-free foods here these days so left it out.
I used fennel-Parmesan broth because that’s what I had a lot of. I’ve also made a similar version with vegetable stock and several large pieces of Parmesan rind. The rind gives the soup a wonderful, rich, almost meaty aroma.
When I am too lazy to harvest thyme from the garden and pick the dog hair out of it’s tiny leaves, I use zahtar, a Middle Eastern herb mix of sesame seed, sumac, and dried thyme. I see my jar of zahtar says it has roasted wheat as well, so if I were cooking a strict gluten-free diet, this blend would be out of bounds. If I had a jar of good-quality dried thyme, I might use it. Herbes de Provence is another good option, but I happen to have a blend with a strong dose of lavender in it. I tend to have a heavy hand with herbs, not a good idea with lavender.
Use whatever onions, carrots, and celery you happen to have about the house. I had 2 large spring onions, so I used those and the heart of the celery since that’s all I had. I also stripped the leaves from the chard, cut up the stems, and added them to cook in the soup, saving the leaves to stir in later.
We have a number of bags of roasted, peeled peppers in the freezer. I hadn’t used any in a while and beans, squash, roasted peppers, and chile go together like. . . What? A horse and a whole team of horses?
The cayenne comes from a stash we dried at home. They are very long and have a strong fruity flavor as well as spicy heat. You can leave out the hot pepper, of course, or use cayenne powder or other chile powder or even chile flake.
I love the intriguing aroma allspice and star anise add to soups and stocks and often use them. But for some who value tradition more than me (my partner G for one), this can sometimes be off putting. (The fact that G is often surprised when he likes one of my kitchen-sink creations is a subject for another day.)