Tuscan vegetable bean soup
The best thing about this soup is its intense savoury flavour; it gets better and better with each ingredient and is definitely one to keep for eating the day after with crusty bread and lots of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
You can play around with the vegetables you add to the soup depending on what you find in the supermarket and what’s in season. I try to only use fresh British vegetables that are in season, so at this time of year it’s savoy cabbage, cavalo nero (or kale) and absolutely; onions, carrots and celery.
I use canned cannellini beans to save time on soaking the dried beans overnight and cooking in lots of changes of water – seriously, too time consuming. I love the flavour, texture and greenness of frozen broad beans and the ‘chew’ of dried pulses and beans. You can choose your own mix of pluses and beans (this is the time to use those half open packets of lentils, pearl barley and split peas that have been in the kitchen cupboard for years), or to make life easier, use a soup mix that all of the supermarkets seem have.
Take care to buy the best canned plum tomatoes as their flavour and acidity will really affect the overall taste of the soup. A lot of the supermarket own label canned tomatoes are made on the cheap and sold as a commodity (some are only 35p!! Once you take away the cost of the can, harvesting and trucking from Italy you can tell that hardly any of the price is going on good quality tomatoes…..). They have been packed with barely ripe plum tomatoes and topped up with lots of citric acid (essentially lemon juice) to extend their shelf life. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell from the packaging if it’s a good quality canned tomato, your only real indicator is the price to determine if ripe plum tomatoes and a tiny amount of citric acid have been used, spend at least 80p on a can of plum tomatoes.
The other 2 ingredients that will transform your soup are; the rind from a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan) and pancetta (or smoked bacon lardons). Both these ingredients will give the soup a massive kick of umami savoury flavour. Freeze left over parmesan rinds so you always have a stock of them in the freezer.
Miraculous ingredients: Pancetta (or smoked bacon lardons), canned plum tomatoes (Mutti or Waitrose organic plum tomatoes are excellent), chicken stock (Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients is the best), Parmigiano Reggiano rind
Tuscan vegetable bean soup
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
40g Pancetta, diced (or smoked bacon lardons)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely sliced
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
400g (1 can) of plum tomatoes (Mutti or Waitrose organic plum tomatoes are excellent)
400g (1 can) cannellini beans, drained
200g cavalo nero cabbage, sliced
¼ savoy cabbage, chopped and sliced into bite size pieces
20g frozen broad beans or peas
80g dried pulses and beans; lentils, pearl barley, split peas or fagioli beans or a dried pulse and bean soup mix
Rind of Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan)
500ml chicken stock (Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients chicken stock is the best)
Sea salt to taste
10g fresh parsley, chopped, to finish
Place a deep sided pot (4.5 litres/4 quarts) on a low heat. Add the olive oil and gently fry the pancetta for 5 minutes to melt the fat. Add the chopped onions and garlic continue to fry until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and fry for another 5 minutes.
Add the can of plum tomatoes and break up the tomatoes as much as possible with a wooden spatula. Fill the can with water (to get every last bit of tomato flavour) and add to the pan.
Add the drained cannellini beans, the frozen broad beans, the dried beans and pulses and stir.
Add the chicken stock.
Add the fresh vegetables; savoy cabbage and cavalo nero and stir.
Add the parmesan rind and use the spatula to push it into the middle of the soup.
Top up the pan with water almost to the top and add a teaspoon of sea salt.
Turn the heat up and bring the soup to a simmer. Once it’s simmering nicely, move the pot to the lowest heat source and very gently simmer the soup with the lid ¾’s of the way on (I balance the lid on top of the pot with one side open) for about 45 minutes to an hour until all the vegetables are lovely and soft and the dried pulses and beans are well cooked.
When the soup is cooked, taste for salt. You will need to add a lot more, but taste and stir as you add so you don’t over do it. Finally, sprinkle with the chopped fresh parsley and serve with lots of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and crusty bread.
Preparation time 15 minutes, cooking time 1 hour and 15 minutes, serves 6