Yes, I threw in the word “Tuscan”. It has a way of making everything sound a bit more lovely, doesn’t it?
Actually, I realized this month that it was exactly half a year ago that my sister and I were in Tuscany. In some ways it feels like ages go. Yet as usually the case with Italy, the memory of it all can come flooding back to me in a heartbeat. The feel of the cobblestones under our feet, the pillowy softness of the homemade gnocchi, the flourish of everyone’s accents, the laughter and music ringing through the narrow streets, the smoothness of the wine, the respectfulness to generations of art, the creaminess of the gelato, the simplicity of it all.
Oh, Italy. There are a million reasons to love it, each of them worthy. But this past summer, I think it was the simplicity of the place was what made me love it all the more. Because it takes a certain kind of confidence in life to keep things simple, to trust the goodness and beauty when it’s found, and not cave to the pressure to add and garnish and modernize and keep accumulating more, more, more. Italy does simplicity well. And it does simplicity deliciously, especially when it comes to food like white bean soup that was inspired by one I enjoyed in a cafe on the streets of Florence.
As a recipe developer, one of the things I always can’t help but notice about good Italian food is how simple the ingredients often are. While I’m one who’s often tempted to finish off a recipe by adding a little bit of this, and a little bit of that…and then a little bit more of this and that…I feel like I’ve learned a lot from Italian cooking over the years about trusting the main ingredients to stand on their own.
The key, of course, is to be sure to invest in good-quality ingredients so that you can rely on them. But in a soup like this with just 7 ingredients, that’s actually pretty easy to do.
All you need is some good-quality chicken stock, your favorite pancetta (or bacon), white beans (I went the extra “simple” way and used canned beans), fresh garlic, fresh rosemary, and some onion and a bay leaf to help season the soup. And then I highly recommend some freshly-grated Parmesan and rustic bread to go with it.
And about 30-40 minutes later, this delicious, flavorful, and oh-so-comforting soup will be ready to go.
It’s simplicity at its best. And I would say, most delicious.
This 7-Ingredient Tuscan White Bean Soup is simple, hearty, surprisingly flavorful. It’s the perfect winter comfort food.
4 ounces pancetta or bacon, finely diced
1 small white onion, peeled and diced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
8 cups good-quality chicken stock
4 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 bay leaf
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
salt and freshly-ground black pepper
(optional but highly recommended for serving: freshly-grated Parmesan, Italian bread)
Heat pancetta (or bacon) in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Cook until crispy, stirring occasionally. Transfer the bacon to a separate plate, using a slotted spoon, reserving about 3 tablespoons of bacon grease in the stockpot. (Discard any extra grease, or you can substitute olive oil in place of the 3 tablespoons of bacon grease.)
Add onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant, stirring occasionally.
Add chicken stock, beans, bay leaf, rosemary and half of the cooked pancetta (or bacon). Stir to combine. Continue cooking the soup until it reaches a simmer. Then reduce heat to medium-low, cover partially, and let the soup simmer for 10-20 minutes so that the flavors will meld.
Add salt and pepper to taste. (I definitely recommend a generous pinch or two of black pepper, and extra salt if needed, depending on your chicken stock.) Remove the bay leaf and rosemary.
Serve warm, topped with the extra pancetta (or bacon). Garnish with Parmesan and serve with Italian bread if desired.