As the days shorten, my cravings for warm, comforting foods have begun, right on cue. Just a few weeks ago, a big salad was perfectly satisfying, but now I’m starting to think more and more about cooking a big pot of something warm to eat throughout the week. I can’t lie. I haven’t exactly been ready to let go of the ease of summer — meals and otherwise. I started with fresh shelling beans, especially the interesting varieties from Alm Hill Gardens, added some fresh herbs and vegetables, and before I knew it, I had made an easy transition into fall cooking.
Orca beans, and yes, they do look like our favorite whale, were described to me as somewhere between a turtle or black bean and a cannellini. I’d say that description is pretty accurate. They’re creamy and have loads of flavor. If you can get your hands on some, give them a try.
Cannellini beans are my favorites, pure and simple. Whatever fresh shelling bean you have can be fully cooked in 30 minutes, give or take, depending on how dry they are. When they’re fresh from the shell, no soaking is required. Just cover with ample water. I always throw in some onion, rosemary & a bay leaf, and simmer gently. Check on them after a half an hour and give a little taste test. Experts say to salt them after they’re cooked instead of adding salt to the water. After a pot or two that never seemed to soften, I always follow this advice and have had great results.
I tried Heidi Swanson’s recipe for Magic Sauce from her 101 Cookbooks blog, one of my favorite resources for vegetarian cooking. This paprika-fresh herb-lemony olive oil sauce is a divine match for humble beans. As a matter of fact, it’s delicious drizzled on everything you can think of, truly magical, as the name implies.
My garden is still producing plenty of veggies after getting a late start. With the addition of fresh beans, I realized I had all I needed to make a big pot of minestrone soup which is perfect for this time of year, warming, but still light and intensely flavorful. Minestrone is one of those seasonal soups that can be made a million different ways depending on what vegetables you have on hand. Leftover pasta is an excellent addition to the mix. My recipe varies but this is how I made it this time. Don’t let the large number of ingredients scare you away, it’s a great way to use up what you have.
Minestrone Soup Recipe
1 1/2 cups cooked fresh shelled beans, I used cannellini beans, covered with water and gently simmered for 35 minutes.
1/4 lb chopped prosciutto, bacon or pancetta
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 small zucchini, chopped
Handful green beans, cut in 1″ pieces
3 small potatoes, chopped
5 tomatoes, chopped
Several handfuls of kale, stems removed and chopped
4 cups chicken broth
Leftover cooked pasta, room temperature. ( I used penne)
Loads of grated parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil and cook the prosciutto over medium heat, stirring until it begins to brown and get crispy. Add the onions and cook until they soften. Turn the heat down to medium low, add the carrots, garlic and potatoes, continue to stir to coat with oil and cook for 5 to 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and chicken broth, cover and simmer very gently for up to an hour.
Remove from the heat, add cooked shell beans, green beans, zucchini and kale to the warm broth. (I like these veggies crisp and just barely cooked. If you want them softer, simmer for several more minutes). Add the leftover pasta and put the pot on low heat to warm it all up.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with grated parmesan cheese on top.
It’s time to pull out the wide-mouth thermos, fill with some piping hot soup and head out for a fall picnic.