White bean and vegetable soup with farfalline

I’ve been known to select pasta solely based on the cuteness of their shape. Am I alone here? Such was the case with these adorable farfalline (as the name implies, little farfalle — bow-tie or butterfly pasta) that I picked up recently at Zabar’s. Inspired by my new pasta acquisition and with just-cooked Rancho Gordo Alubia Blanca beans (a small white heirloom bean) and rich, homemade chicken stock in the fridge, I decided on a soup — no surprise there since this time of year every day is soup day, in my opinion.

I sautéed my usual soup starters of onion, carrot, celery, and fennel in some olive oil, added garlic and chicken broth, cooked beans, a bit of fresh rosemary and some chile flakes. Simmered that for about half an hour before adding the farfalline, cooking until al dente, and then finished the soup with a big squeeze of lemon juice, chives, and a generous grating of Grana Padano. So simple and so good. My idea of healthy comfort food perfection on a cold winter’s night.

Good soup, particularly a broth-based soup, is all about starting with a great-tasting broth or stock. Whenever I roast a chicken (this is my is my go-to recipe, always and forever), I save the carcass and any leftover bones, vegetables, and herbs to make stock. Using a roasted chicken creates the richest and most flavorful stock you can imagine — I could just add a pinch of salt and sip on this and be very happy. I place the bones, vegetables and herbs (fresh thyme and sometimes rosemary) in an 8-quart soup pot and cover with 8 to 10 cups of water. Sometimes I’ll add a piece of kombu, which infuses the broth with minerals, particularly iodine, or immune-boosting herbs like dried burdock root, dried astragalus, or a few dried shiitake mushrooms. Other times I’ll just keep it super simple and throw in a bay leaf or two. After bringing the liquid to a boil I skim any foam from the surface and simmer gently, partially covered (to give the broth room to breathe) for 4 to 5 hours. Allowing for evaporation creates a more flavorful and concentrated broth, and if the liquid level gets too low I add a cup or two of boiling water. Then the broth is ready to strain and use in recipes, or freeze for future use.

White bean and vegetable soup with farfalline
Serves 4

extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, diced small (about 1 cup)
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into quarter-moons (about 1/2 cup)
1 celery stalk, diced small (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 small fennel bulb, cored and diced small (about 1/2 cup) (save some fennel fronds for garnish)
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
6 cups chicken broth (see description above) or vegetable broth (or 6 cups water + a bouillon cube)
2 cups cooked white beans + 1/2 cup bean cooking liquid OR one 13.5-ounce can of white beans, rinsed and drained (such as cannellini or Great Northern)
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
pinch of red chile flakes
1/2 cup farfalline (orzo and pastina are good substitutes)
kosher salt or Celtic sea salt
1/4 cup thinly sliced chives
juice of 1/2 lemon
freshly grated Italian hard cheese, such as Grana Padano, Pecorino, or Parmigiano, for serving
fennel fronds, to garnish each serving (optional)

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pot (4 to 6 quart size). Add onion, carrot, celery, and fennel, and cook for 5 minutes until vegetables are starting to soften. Add garlic and stir for another minute.

Add broth, beans, bean-cooking liquid (if using), rosemary, chile flakes, and a pinch of salt (amount of salt needed will depend on seasoning of your broth and bean liquid). Simmer for 30 minutes, until vegetables are tender.

Add farfalline and simmer until al dente (6 to 8 minutes). Season with salt, if needed. Stir in chives and lemon juice. Garnish each serving with fennel fronds, if using, and serve with grated cheese.

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