Maybe I’ve been thinking about soup so much lately because I’m still longing for winter, or at least a bit more rain.
Inspiration also has come from our farmers markets and farm stands. With locally grown shell beans so readily available, making great bean soups has never been easier. They are so full of earthy flavors and have such great textures that soup practically makes itself.
The ready availability of stewing hens helps, too. Green Star Farm now sells stewing hens, which produce a much more flavorful stock than younger chickens. If you have a large slow cooker, put a stewing hen in, cover it with water, add some salt and, if you like, add a splash of apple cider vinegar, some garlic, some sliced ginger and a chopped onion and leave it on low all day and overnight. If you don’t have the time, inclination or ingredients, don’t worry about the aromatics. If your garden is full of herbs, add some. Even if the only ingredients are the hen and salt, you’ll have a great stock; it’s about as foolproof as you can get.
For soups from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
Marrowfat white beans were once little more than a rumor, available fresh for a week or two in the fall and then gone. Now, several local farmers grow them and sell them dried as well as fresh. Both are so good. When I have them, I make a very simple soup to show off their flavor and texture. To make this soup with other white beans, consult the variation at the end of the recipe. This soup welcomes a nice red wine, preferably an Italian varietal, alongside. For a full meal, add a big green salad and warm hearth bread.
The Simplest White Bean Soup
1 pound marrowfat white beans
— Kosher salt
4-6 ounces (1 to 1½) cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
— Black pepper in a mill
— Best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
Rinse the beans under cool water and pick through them to remove any small rocks or other varieties of bean.
Put them into a clay bean pot or large saucepan, set over medium heat and slowly bring to a boil. (If using a bean pot, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.) Reduce the heat, skim off any foam that rises to the surface and cook until the beans have begun to soften. Season with salt and continue to cook until the beans are very tender; add water as needed so that the beans do not dry out or scorch.
Remove from the heat, let cool slightly and puree with an immersion blender until very smooth. Return to low heat, stir in the cheese, taste, correct for salt and season generously with black pepper.
Ladle into soup plates, drizzle with olive oil and serve right away.
This soup will keep well, properly refrigerated, for several days.
Variation: To make this soup with a bean other than marrowfats, add 1 chopped yellow onion and a few crushed cloves of garlic when you add the salt to the beans.
Avocados seem particularly good this year, with a creaminess that is perfect for turning them into soup. On a cold night, serve the soup warm, if you like, with warm corn tortillas alongside.