Saturday, January 29, 2011
Rosemary White Bean Soup
I will say that the combination of rain and cold and crazy-long days of classes has made me yearn for something comforting. Often I seek this form of comfort in a phone call to my mom, a quick but all-too-brief sojourn browsing through my Google reader, donning a warm and familiar sweater, or enjoying my favorite meals of soupy oatmeal and warm lemonade and almonds.
I will pause right there for those last few words to really set in. "Soupy oatmeal and warm lemonade and almonds." No, your eyes do not deceive you. I prefer my oatmeal drowning in cinnamon-laced, salted water with a bit of Splenda. My beverage of choice is generic Crystal Light warmed in the microwave for two and half minutes. On the side I enjoy exactly five raw almonds, which I soak briefly in the warm lemonade to soften the skins a little.
Oh my gosh, I am so weird. I won't pretend to be offended if you think I am crazy. I am pretty sure anyone who has ever seen me drink hot lemonade or sloshy oatmeal would agree. But what can I say? My ultimate comfort food is oatmeal.
When I had the conversation with my sister and mom about our comfort foods they gave traditional (ahem, boring) answers: garlic mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese. Me?
"Your comfort food is oatmeal?!" they asked incredulously.
"Yeah," I responded, only a bit defensively.
Now I don't remember exactly what they said next, but it went along the lines of "How sad is it that your comfort food is one that you eat pretty much every day? Do you really need to be comforted that much?"
Well, when you put it like that.... I think it was about that time that I changed my answer to cheesecake, which is wholly inaccurate, because cheesecake is certainly not a comfort food for me.
Anyway, their response got me thinking about what my favorite comfort food really is. Certainly not pasta, although I enjoy a pasta symphony as much as the next girl. I'm inclined to cop out and declare Thanksgiving dinner as my comfort food, but that's really more of a collection of foods and the entire sentiment that surrounds the holiday really makes the food taste that much better.
(On a side note, on a scale from one to ten, how lame would it be for me to write about The O.C. and its portrayal of outsiders for my English class, which is about outsider narratives? A part of me knows that the resulting essay would probably be better and more knowledgeable than anything I could ever write about another film or play or novel. The more rational part of me thinks it's the most ridiculous idea.)
When I really thought about it, I realized that the food I crave most when I'm down, or when it's so cold outside that my face goes numb, or when I've come back to the room after eight hours of classes, tired and hungry and looking for any type of sustenance, is soup.
noodle soups, tomato soups, chickpea soups, vegetable soups, chowders, gumbos, lentil soups, and mushroom soups. My favorite soup of all is split pea soup, which I could enjoy for days on end and never tire of. But I think this soup comes in a close second. (Full disclosure - I didn't actually make this soup. My mom did. But isn't comfort food all the more comforting when you're not the one who makes it?)
Infused with earthy rosemary and extra virgin olive oil, the soup has natural body from the white beans, some of which remain whole. In fact, aside from the flavor, one of my favorite things about this soup is the texture. I prefer all my soups to have some sort of texture; I'm not a fan of completely smooth purees or clear broths. If I'm eating soup, I need something to chew on, or at least an element that adds some textural interest. Luckily, this soup hits all the right notes. No matter that today was seventy degrees and sunny, I'd still warm up a comforting bowl and enjoy every spoonful.
Rosemary White Bean Soup
Adapted from Ina Garten
I smiled to myself when I read the recipe for this soup. In usual Ina fashion, she calls for "good" olive oil. Anyway, if you can't find dried cannellini beans, you can substitute Great Northern or navy beans, which have a similar flavor and are usually more readily available. In Ina's original recipe, she calls for the soup to be pureed. However, my mom and I both thought that it would be just fine to mash the cooked beans with a potato masher. This way, you can avoid hauling out and then cleaning the food processor, and the soup retains a nice chunky but creamy consistency. Depending on how salty the chicken stock is that you use, you may need to add less salt than called for.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 pound dried white cannellini beans
2 medium onions, sliced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large sprig fresh rosemary (6 to 7 inches in length)
8 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place the beans in a medium bowl and cover with water by at least 1 inch. Allow the beans to chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight. After the beans have soaked, drain them.
In a large stockpot over medium-low heat, saute the onions with the olive oil until the onions are translucent, about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the drained white beans, rosemary sprig (whole), chicken stock, and bay leaf. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the beans are very soft. If, after 40 minutes, the beans are not very soft, reduce the heat to low and continue to cook the beans until they become very soft and tender. (Our beans took a while longer than 40 minutes to fully soften, so we kept them over low heat for about an hour. After this time, they had softened to just the right texture. Depending on your stove or beans, this process may not take as long or it may take longer. The best way to know if the beans are ready is to just taste one. It should be very tender and smooth.)
Once the beans are soft, remove the rosemary branch (all of the rosemary will have fallen off) and the bay leaf. Use a potato masher to break up the beans. The soup should be a little chunky with some whole beans remaining. (You can see from the photos that the soup is about 75% smooth.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
The soup will keep, well covered in the refrigerator, for up to a week.