RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

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RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Jan 04, 2007 10:01 am

Bean soup

For most of us, the dishes that become our "comfort foods" when we grow up are the ones that we remember most fondly from childhood. I've got plenty of them, but it's hard to think of a dish that brings back more happy memories than a bowl of thick and hearty bean soup on a winter day.

My mother used to make it as an all-day project, but for my busy life in 2007, there's nothing comforting about a dish that keeps me in the kitchen for hours.

Happily, by tinkering with the procedure, I've developed a variation that's pretty good if I do say so myself, and it shouldn't take longer than an hour, <I>provided you have cooked beans on hand</I>.

Frankly (ssshhh!) you can use canned beans in this soup and it will come out okay. But it's so easy to make a pot of beans, and the result is so much better, that it's really worth the additional effort. For the past six months or so, I've been buying fresh dried beans from Rancho Gordo of Napa, Calif. (http://www.ranchogordo.com), and I've been so happy with them that we now just about always have a pot of cooked beans in the fridge, ready to use in recipes.

At $5 a pound, they're not cheap, but then, Napa wine isn't cheap either. More to the point, these beans - heirloom varieties from Europe, the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico - are well worth the toll. A pound makes enough beans to feed two people at least three meals; and they make healthy meatless main dishes at a fraction the cost of steak or lamb chops. (This is not an advertising message. I'm speaking strictly as a very satisfied consumer.)

This soup is best with white beans, and I find Rancho Gordo's large marrow beans, which are meaty white beans about two or three times the size of navy beans or Great Northerns, are an excellent choice. You could certainly go with any of those alternatives, though, or Italian cannellini beans. Bean soup is fine as a vegetarian dish, but I love it with a little pork flavor - ham hock or diced ham or crumbled smoky bacon. The other night I made some with pancetta, because I had it on hand and because it gave the dish a slight Italian accent. That's comfort food, too.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

1 medium baking potato
1 or 2 ounces (30-60g) pancetta, bacon or ham
2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil
1/2 of a medium yellow or white onion, enough to make 1/2 cup (120g) chopped
1 stalk celery with its leaves
1 or 2 garlic cloves
Dried red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon (15g) tomato paste
2 cups cooked white beans with their liquid
1 cup (240g) chicken broth (use vegetable broth or water for a vegetarian soup)
Salt
Black pepper

PROCEDURE:

1. Peel the potato and cut it into smallish (1/2-inch/1cm) dice. Put them in a pot with water to cover and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook briefly until they're just crisp-tender, about 5 minutes or so.

2. Mince the pancetta, bacon or ham (or skip this step for a vegetarian dish). Heat the olive oil in a saucepan or soup pot and put in the meat, cooking until it browns slightly.

3. Chop the onion, celery and garlic fine and add them to the pot with the oil and meat. Season with a shake of dried red-pepper flakes (don't overdo it). Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables start to brown. Add the tomato paste, then the beans, and finally the broth.

4. Drain and add the cooked potatoes and simmer the soup, stirring occasionally, for 10 or 15 minutes or until the flavors blend.

5. Using a stick or stand blender, blend a little of the soup briefly to thicken. Don't blend the soup into a puree; you want plenty of whole beans and potato dice to remain in it. Shoot for blending about one-fourth of the soup and the texture should be just right. Check seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot, with crusty bread and a salad or green vegetable.

<B>ABOUT COOKING DRIED BEANS:</b>
I must have made a dozen or more batches of Rancho Gordo beans by now, and the more beans I cook, the more I become a convert to the gospel of simplicity. I've never been an advocate of the "quick boil method" of reconstituting dried beans, but I'm not good at planning meals a day in advance either, which has presented a problem for me since most bean recipes call for an overnight soak. Rancho Gordo's beans solve that problem because, the producer says, they really need only about four hours' soaking, followed by a long, slow and low three-hour cooking time. This means I can decide at lunch time to have beans for dinner, and I still have time enough to do it.

Around midday, then, I'll put a pound of beans in a mixing bowl and rinse them several times, checking for sticks and small stones (which I rarely if ever find). Then cover them with enough cool water to stand about 2 inches deep over the surface of the beans. It's not necessary to stick a ruler in, just eyeball it. Now you can go away and ignore them for four hours. When you come back, you'll find that the beans have swelled to pretty much fill up the water.

Pour the beans and their water into a heavy bean pot - I use a heavy cast-iron dutch oven. <I>Do not pour off and replace the water</i>. You're just wasting nutrients if you do, and it makes no difference in the beans', er, digestibility. Don't add much more water, either - just enough to cover the beans with a half-inch of water is plenty. Don't salt them. For that matter, there's no need to put any flavoring in at this point. Remember what I said about simplicity?

Bring to a hard boil and let them boil for one minute, stirring once or twice. Then turn the heat down as low as it will go, and cook on a very low simmer for two to three hours. Check and stir occasionally, adding water only if necessary. You don't want to use excess water so the juice around the beans - called "pot liquor" or "potlikker" in rural parlance - will end up undiluted, thick and flavorful. Don't cook by the clock, just taste a bean now and then and turn off the heat when the beans are done. At this point you can add salt and black pepper to taste and eat them immediately as is, or use them in any recipe you like. They'll keep in the refrigerator for a week or so ... if they last that long in your house.

<B>MATCHING WINE:</b>
Your friendly sommelier might tell you that wine doesn't go with most soups, but this hearty, comforting dish struck me as just right for a simple, country French or Italian red. A fresh young <b>Domaine Lafond 2005 "Roc-Epine" Cotes-du-Rhone</b> was first up in the tasting lineup, and it hit the spot.

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Last edited by Robin Garr on Thu Jan 04, 2007 10:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Stuart Yaniger » Thu Jan 04, 2007 10:13 am

For a vegetarian version, use a vegetable stock and add a few drops, maybe half a teaspoon, of dark soy (the thick, sweetish stuff), and a few drops of roasted pumpkinseed oil. That will give the body and smokiness that the bacon brings to the table.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Jan 04, 2007 10:20 am

Stuart Yaniger wrote:For a vegetarian version, use a vegetable stock and add a few drops, maybe half a teaspoon, of dark soy (the thick, sweetish stuff), and a few drops of roasted pumpkinseed oil. That will give the body and smokiness that the bacon brings to the table.


Excellent! Thanks, Stuart. Dropping in a dried chipotle pepper might do the trick, too, in a differently delicious way ...
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Stuart Yaniger » Thu Jan 04, 2007 10:43 am

It will definitely give a kick (you could leave out the red pepper flakes) and some smokiness; a little goes a long way. You'll still want to add a little something for umami...

I jumped in on this because the RC is so close to what I do for lentil soup. My non-veggie friends seem to like it.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Christina Georgina » Thu Jan 04, 2007 11:10 am

Robin,

Excellent recipe. Basically what I do with a shank end of a procuitto making a much larger quantity. Not only does the flavor improve with age but for each successive use I remove the desired quantity from the large stock pot and add some other ingredient i.e. cavolo nero one night, barley another or savoy cabbage another. My husbands favorite though is to put a thick slice of toasted rustic bread that has been rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil, layered with a grated melting cheese and lots of freshly ground black pepper - an extremely hearty winter meal.
Don't forget to add the leftover rinds of your Reggiano Parm to the cooking pot[ I save these in the freezer just to use in making winter soups].
Mamma Mia !
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Jan 04, 2007 11:38 am

Stuart Yaniger wrote:I jumped in on this because the RC is so close to what I do for lentil soup. My non-veggie friends seem to like it.


Details, man, details! Lentil soup is most excellent!

Since getting into this Rancho Gordo period, I've become more and more persuaded that well-made beans come about as close to satisfying a carnivore's cravings as any non-animal protein source can. They're so ... pardon the expression ... <i>meaty</i> ...
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Bruce K » Thu Jan 04, 2007 11:41 am

My younger daughter is a vegetarian and whenever I make a dish that might call for or benefit from some bacon or pancetta (like Cuban-style black bean soup), I use Morningstar vegetarian bacon strips. I know that might make me a philistine, but so be it. There's no way to replicate the greasy texture of bacon, but I find the flavor they impart is remarkably close to the real thing. I've even had veggie BLT sandwiches with them that I enjoyed.

As a general rule, I'm not crazy about "meat substitute" products but I like this one.

It never occurred to me to add dark soy and roasted pumpkinseed oil, but I'll have to try it sometime (assuming I can find the latter; never noticed the product before). Thanks for the tip.

The other thing I'll add is that I find most dishes based around beans very red-wine friendly, the exceptions being things like 3-bean salads and fiery chilis.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Jan 04, 2007 11:50 am

Bruce K wrote:It never occurred to me to add dark soy and roasted pumpkinseed oil, but I'll have to try it sometime (assuming I can find the latter; never noticed the product before). Thanks for the tip.


Bruce, pumpkinseed oil is a big deal in the Styria region of Austria, where I first encountered it, but since then I've noticed it for sale here and there in the U.S., and certainly available online. It has an incredibly delicious flavor when fresh, but in my experience, goes rancid much faster than most oils (or else it's delicate enough that age shows), and I quit using it regularly after having to dump a half-bottle or two.

The other thing I'll add is that I find most dishes based around beans very red-wine friendly, the exceptions being things like 3-bean salads and fiery chilis.


Agree 100 percent, and would add - assuming that there's not a vegan in the house - that bean-and-cheese dishes are particularly good with red wine, assuming as you do that we're not talking about a fiery Mexican dish too spicy for wine to be comfortable.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Howie Hart » Thu Jan 04, 2007 11:51 am

Not unlike the Beans & Greens I've made for NiagaraCOOL:
Beans & Green
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Jan 04, 2007 11:55 am

Howie Hart wrote:Not unlike the Beans & Greens I've made for NiagaraCOOL:
Beans & Green


I love that dish, Howie, although I'd call them more like cousins than siblings ...
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Bruce K » Thu Jan 04, 2007 12:14 pm

Agree 100 percent, and would add - assuming that there's not a vegan in the house - that bean-and-cheese dishes are particularly good with red wine, assuming as you do that we're not talking about a fiery Mexican dish too spicy for wine to be comfortable.


I agree as well about the bean-and-cheese combo. In fact, as one variation on that theme, one of my favorite red-wine-matching dishes (more or less improvised from a friend's description of a Greek dish) is a casserole mixing garbanzo beans, onions, garlic, rosemary and that fake bacon, and topped with lots of feta cheese.

And thank God, no vegans in the house. Not that there's anything wrong with that . . . but it would make coming up with dinner preparations especially hard.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Stuart Yaniger » Thu Jan 04, 2007 12:43 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Details, man, details! Lentil soup is most excellent!

Since getting into this Rancho Gordo period, I've become more and more persuaded that well-made beans come about as close to satisfying a carnivore's cravings as any non-animal protein source can. They're so ... pardon the expression ... <i>meaty</i> ...


Agreed, I love 'em, done right. As for details... errrrr.... I'm more of a seat-of-pants shopping-oriented cook. But I can outline it:

I make a roasted veggie stock (or if I'm in a hurry, I'll use some Swanson's Vegetable Broth- don't shoot me, it's better than most of the "organic" ones), usually with leeks, carrot, onion, mushroom, garlic, with parsley, bay leaf, Parmesan rind, thyme, peppercorns added. One or two dried porcinis really help here. And the secret ingredient, the homeopathic amount of dark soy.

I cook Puy lentils until tender, then drain, leaving behind just enough liquid to keep everything moist and to give the soup a little extra body.

Now, the fun: I make a well-done mirepoix (sauteed diced carrots, celery, and shallot), deglaze with white wine, then add the lentils and stock in a proportion that will result in a very thick soup. Some pepper is nice here. Ten minutes or so of cooking will meld the flavors. Adjust salt. A few bursts of immersion blender will give a nice texture- not soft and pureed, not lumpy, but grainy like a good oatmeal.

In our version, we poach an egg for each serving, lay it in the bowl, ladle the soup over the egg to cover it completely (it's a surprise burst of yellow while eating), then streak the top with pumpkinseed oil and creme fraiche, and stick a crostini somewhere-or-other. When black truffles are available, we avail.

This sounds super-elaborate, but it's really not; like yours, it's a series of logical and simple steps. And the soup tastes pretty good.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby ChefCarey » Thu Jan 04, 2007 1:03 pm

Love beans soups! Been making and eating them 1-3 days per week for the past 30 years or so.

Kinda curious about one thing, though.

Why do you withhold your advocacy from the "quick-soak" method of reconstitution?

It's what I always do. And I have yet to see any negatives in the technique - no breaking beans etc.

Oh, and the American Dried Bean Board (Yes, *everything* has a board now - it's finally official) recommends this method over the long soak and says it does in fact dissipate more of the gas-causing effects of most dried beans and makes them more digestible. I assume they know beans.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Jan 04, 2007 1:24 pm

ChefCarey wrote:Why do you withhold your advocacy from the "quick-soak" method of reconstitution?

It's what I always do. And I have yet to see any negatives in the technique - no breaking beans etc.


Maybe I just never did it right, Joseph, but to me, the beans made by the quick-soak method just don't seem to come out with the same perfect creamy texture as long-soaked beans. Maybe I'm just suspicious of short cuts, although lord knows I'm not loath to take them.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Peter May » Fri Jan 05, 2007 6:54 pm

Pour the beans and their water into a heavy bean pot - I use a heavy cast-iron dutch oven. Do not pour off and replace the water. You're just wasting nutrients if you do, and it makes no difference in the beans', er, digestibility.


I always pour off the water -- when I first started cooking dried beans the recipes said that toxins were released.

Ok just done a quick check, initial hits specifically mention dried Soya Beans and Red Kidney Beans as releasing toxins
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Bean soup

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Jan 05, 2007 7:21 pm

Peter May wrote:I always pour off the water -- when I first started cooking dried beans the recipes said that toxins were released.

Ok just done a quick check, initial hits specifically mention dried Soya Beans and Red Kidney Beans as releasing toxins


Do what you feel is right, Peter, but based upon Rancho Gordo's recommendations and my own experience, I'm a firm advocate for keeping the soaking water and the nutrients/flavors that it contains.

That said, although I love Asian soya/soybean products and can't get enough tofu, I never cook soya/soybeans as beans and can't testify.

I find it very unlikely that there's any real threat from human consumption of beans cooked in their soaking water, though.
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