What better way to break in a new website than by launching my inaugural blog here at Clareskitchen.net?
Autumn’s arrival signaled the start of my beloved soup season. And, since I knew it would come eventually, even when the temperatures were hovering in the upper 80’s not too long ago, I proactively did all sorts of things in preparation: I made sure there was lots of great homemade chicken stock in my freezer: ordered a gorgeous new shipment of beans from Ranchogordo.com; and made sure that there was an array of aromatics, like carrots, celery, garlic, and onions positioned to get things moving along in the right direction when the moment seemed auspicious.
Thus, the other day, when I tugged on my favorite, gnarly navy blue sweater for the first time all year, I was ready to get cracking. But what to make?
The die was cast when I saw a bag of last year’s cannellini beans still sitting on my pantry shelf. Quick as a bunny, i scooped them up and before bed, set them to soak in preparation for the first big kettle of soup of the year.
The next afternoon, things came together likety-split. I drained the beans, set them up in nice fresh water with a couple of carrots and an onion, bay leaves and leafy celery stalks, and put them to boil. Since they weren’t the freshest beans in the world, they took a good couple of hours to reach the desired al dente state I had in mind.
Once they were ready, however, the actual soup making was a breeze, which leads me to admit, that had I used regular canned beans (while, I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of dealing with the lone holdover on my bean shelf from last year) I still could have made a very satisfying soup in no more than 15 minutes tops.
When Jeff came in, there was a healing bowl of the first soup of the year. I made some good crusty toast which we drizzled with some of friend Silvestro’s fine olive oil from Puglia to accompany it. I swore that it was the best soup I ever made, however, Jeff insists that I say that over every pot of soup I ever make. What can I say? Maybe every bowl of soup is my favorite as I'm eating. That's the upside of living in the moment I guess. But no matter what, I still think there’s something especially splendid about that first pot of the year.
Braised Spinach and White Bean Soup
Makes 8 servings
For the beans: (or use 8 cups canned Cannellini beans and go onto the next step)
1 pound dried Cannellini beans
1 large sweet onion, unpeeled and cut in half
2 large stalks of celery, with leaves attached
3 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
3 large bay leaves, fresh or dried
For the soup:
¼ cup good extra-virgin Olive oil
2 large carrots
1 medium onion diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
The cooked Cannellini beans drained, OR 8 cups canned Cannelini beans drained
I bay leaf
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
8 cups carefully cleaned spinach, coarsely chopped
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese plus more for serving
To Make the Beans:
Place beans in a large pot of water covering them by at least 4-inches, overnight to soak.
The next day, drain the beans and place them in a large pot with water to cover them. Add the remaining bean ingredients. Bring them to a boil and allow them to gently simmer until they are al dente. Skim off any foam that appears. Start to check them at an hour, and every 15 minutes thereafter until ready. Remove the celery stalks and onion. Drain and set aside.
To Make the Soup:
Place the olive oil in a clean, heavy pot, large enough to hold the soup. Add the carrots, onion and garlic and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Ad the beans, bay leaf, red pepper and stock. Bring to a simmer, and stir in the spinach. Cook covered until it thickens and flavors meld, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add cheese. Serve immediately, garnished with additional freshly grated cheese.