(illustration from http://www.authorama.com)
Last weekend, on a gorgeous sunny day, I headed out to Los Feliz for a tea party and soup swap at Erin’s house. She had invited a handful of us, asking that we each whip up a batch of soup, bringing a quart per guest. With four of us attending the party, we’d each head home with three homemade soups, as if a tea party alone weren’t incentive enough to RSVP yes. Conveniently, the latest issue of Gourmet (April 2007) was chock full of recipes I was eager to try- in fact there was a whole section of tasty and interesting vegetarian meals, among them a Venetian-style bean and pasta soup.
This posting is just as much about the lovely tea party as about my bean soup. Ever the gracious host, Erin served lavender tea, though not before plying us with a summery white sangria. Even more tempting was the lemon upside-down cake she made from a L.A. Times food section recipe-moist, tasty cake with tangy sugared lemon slices. Yum! And what tea party would be complete without cucumber tea sandwiches? Good food, good company and three quarts of soup as a sort of adult “goody loot” bag. Dylan and I have been happily working our way through Erin’s green minestrone, Jill’s carrot and red pepper soup, and Kelly’s split-pea soup. And the best part? Totally freezable so that we can save it for days when there’s just no time to cook.
As for my soup, I wasn’t so sure about it at first, but it grew on me as it cooked and thickened. In fact it thickened so much and became such an unusually filling and creamy vegetarian meal that I’ve resorted to diluting it. I took a few liberties and short-cuts, but even so, though the soup has a short, basic list of ingredients, it takes quite a while to make. I tried the pressure cooker method (rather than the long, extended boil) and used a stick blender instead of a regular blender, both of which produced good results in a lot less time. And I would certainly have included the cheese rind for a little more flavor had I had one lying around…in general, I felt like the soup needed a little more flavor and we ended up seasoning it quite a bit. But that could also be my fault for resorting to a mix of canellini and anasazi beans when I couldn’t find the recommended cranberry beans. I’ve posted it just as Gourmet printed it, rather than incorporating my own improvisations. Sadly, we managed to scarf it all down before I remembered to take a photo, so you’ll just have to try it yourself.
Try the soup if you want a creamy, hearty veggie meal and more importantly, try hosting a soup swap party if you want a good excuse to see friends and take care of a week’s worth of meals all in one.
Venetian-style bean and pasta soup (serves eight)
1 lb dried beans borlotti (cranberry) beans (or another bean of your choosing)
10 cups water
1/2 cup plus two tbsp extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzling
2 medium onions, chopped
1 3/4 tsp salt
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs
5 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 roughly 3- by 2- inch piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (optional)
3/4 lb dried ditalini or other small tubular pasta
1. Bring beans and water (10 cups) to a boil in a large, heavy pot and boil two minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 1 hr. (Do not drain beans or discard soaking liquid.)
2. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a wide, heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot, then saute onions with 1/2 tsp salt, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 7-8 minutes. Add carrots, celery, parsley, garlic, rosemary, and pepper, and saute, sitrring occasionally, 5 minutes.
3. Add beans and soaking liquid and cheese rind (if using) and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally until beans are very tender (1 1/2-2 1/2 hrs), adding more water if needed to keep beans covered. Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup oil and remaining 1 1/4 tsp salt. Cool, uncovered, 20 minutes.
4. Discard rind and coarsely puree soup in batches in a blender (use caution), transferring as pureed to a large bowl. OR, use a stick blender and puree in the cooking pot.
5. Return soup to pot and reheat over moderately low heat, stirring frequently and thinning soup as desired with additional water. Season with salt and pepper. While soup is reheating, cook pasta in a large pot of water until al dente, then drain and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with remaining 2 tbsp oil and pepper to taste.
6. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with spoonfuls of pasta, then drizzle with oil (optional).
- Beans can be cooked in 1/3 the time using a 6-8 qt pressure cooker. Follow recipe, sauteing veggies in pressure cooker, uncovered, then adding beans with soaking liquid and cheese rind (if using). Seal pressure cooker with lid and cook at high pressure, according to manufacturer’s instructions, until beans are tender 45 minutes to 1 hr. Put pressure cooker in sink (do not remove lid) and run cold water over lid until pressure goes down completely.
- Soup, without pasta, can be made ahead and chilled up to 1 week or frozen 3 months. Soup thickens a lot as it stands, so thin with water while reheating over low heat.