Healthy Tuscan Bean Soup
Tuscans call this hearty soup minestrone on the day it is made and ribollita the next day, when they add stale bread to thicken and stretch it. In Italy, fresh or dried borlotti beans, which are pinkish beige with burgundy markings, are used. If you cannot find them, cranberry beans, which are similar, are excellent substitutes. Italian cooks also traditionally add cavolo nero, literally “black cabbage,” which has green-black crinkled leaves and a mildly bitter taste. Sometimes called lacinato or dinosaur kale, it can be used in place of, or along with, the savoy cabbage.
- 1 cup dried borlotti or cranberry beans, or 3 cups shelled fresh borlotti or cranberry beans (about 4 lb. unshelled)
- 1/2 head savoy cabbage or 1 small bunch cavolo nero (see note above), about 1 lb.
- 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
- 1 can (28 oz.) diced or chopped tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, or more, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 8 day-old coarse country bread slices, each 1 inch thick (optional)
If using dried beans, pick over the beans, discarding any misshapen beans and stones, and rinse well. In a large pot, combine the beans with cold water to cover by 3 inches. Soak for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. Alternatively, for a quick-soak method, bring the beans and water to a rapid simmer (but do not boil), then simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour.
Drain the beans, place in a saucepan and add water to cover generously. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, cover partially and simmer gently until tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the heat and drain over a bowl, reserving the beans and liquid separately. If using fresh beans, set them aside.
If using savoy cabbage, cut the half head in half again, to form 2 wedges, then cut the wedges crosswise into strips 1/2 inch wide. If using cavolo nero, remove the center rib from each leaf, then cut the leaves crosswise into strips 1/2 inch wide. Set aside.
In a large Dutch oven or other deep, heavy pot over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery and sauté until the onion and celery are translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the cabbage or cavolo nero strips, and stir until they wilt, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice and stir to combine.
If using cooked dried beans, measure the bean cooking liquid and add water as needed to total 4 cups. Add the beans and liquid to the pan along with the bay leaf and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the beans are heated through, about 10 minutes. Stir in the salt and black pepper.
If using fresh beans, add them to the pan along with the bay leaf and red pepper flakes. Pour in 4 cups cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the beans are tender but not soft, about 20 minutes. Stir in the salt and black pepper.
If using the bread, place a slice in each warmed wide, shallow bowl. Remove the bay leaf from the soup and discard. Ladle the soup into the bowls and serve. Serves 8.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Healthful Cooking, by Mary Abbott Hess, Dana Jacobi & Marie Simmons (Oxmoor House, 2003).