Soup season is here and I couldn’t be happier about it. Somehow as I get older my love of soup continues to grow exponentially. Nothing makes me happier on a cold fall or winter evening than a big, warming bowl of slowly simmered soup brimming with tons of veggies, satisfyingly chewy grains, and creamy-tender beans in a super-flavorful broth infused with herbs and aromatics. Yes, please!
And when the start of soup season coincides with a delivery from Rancho Gordo, even better. If you’ve never ordered from NorCal-based RG you must try their wonderful heirloom beans (they also carry unique grains such as black quinoa, as well as dried herbs and spices, etc) — varieties you can’t find anywhere else and so much fresher than anything you can find at a grocery store or even specialty market.
This time my order included cranberry (aka borlotti beans) and wild rice, which I decided to bring together into this soup. If you haven’t cooked with borlotti beans before they are a wonderfully creamy bean, relatively quick-cooking, and with a thin skin so they create the most delicious pot liquor. They are delicious simply simmered with garlic and herbs and finished with olive oil, and they also make a fantastic soup bean.
After reading about the technique of brining dried beans recently I decided to give it a try, and the results have been so good that it’s now my go-to method. This simply involves soaking the dried beans in water to which you’ve added salt (aka brine); for 1 cup of dried beans I use 4 cups water and 2 teaspoons kosher salt.
There’s quite the debate among bean aficionados about when to add salt to a pot of beans while they’re cooking — some say if you add it too early it makes for a tough-skinned bean, or that the interior of the bean will remain hard no matter how long you cook them, but on the other hand if you wait too long you risk a bland, mushy bean. We were taught in culinary school to salt when the beans have just become tender, but I always seem to miss that ‘sweet spot’ and add the salt too early or too late.
The brining method is genius because it takes the guess-work out: the beans evenly absorb the salt while they are soaking, so they’re not ‘shocked’ by its addition while they are cooking. Every batch of beans I’ve cooked using this method has turned out tender and creamy and perfectly seasoned. Bean heaven!
Before we move on to the recipe, since it’s December and therefore the start of the holiday gift-giving season, I must add a plug here for my small-batch, hand-crafted gomasio (sesame salt). It’s the perfect gift for all the cooks, eaters and foodies in your life! Made with organic sesame seeds and mineral-rich natural sea salts, our gomasio is unlike anything you can find in a store, and it makes everything it touches more delicious. Add a pinch to salads, eggs, popcorn, dips, and roasted vegetables, use as a crust for scallops and salmon — it’s so versatile! Our new Gomasio Sampler lets you try all 4 varieties and also makes the perfect stocking stuffer, hostess gift or goodie-bag item.
Borlotti bean, escarole and wild rice soup
Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a starter
1 cup dried borlotti (cranberry) beans, soaked overnight in 4 cups water with 2 teaspoons salt added (to make things easier, I do this in the pot I’m going to cook the beans in)
1-inch piece of dried kombu
1 thyme sprig
1 peeled garlic clove
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 garlic cloves, sliced
pinch of crushed red chile
5 cups broth or stock (I used chicken bone broth)
2 thyme sprigs, 1 rosemary sprig, 1 sage sprig tied together into a bouquet garni
1-1/2 cups cooked wild rice
1/2 head of escarole, washed and spun dry and sliced into 1/2-inch ribbons (about 4 cups)
to finish: good olive oil, freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, chopped parsley or chives
Bring the beans and their soaking liquid to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pot; add more water if needed to cover the beans by about 3 inches. Add kombu, thyme and garlic. Boil for 5 minutes, reduce heat to low and simmer (partially covered) until beans are tender; borlotti beans cook rather quickly (mine cooked in about 35 minutes), so keep an eye on them so they don’t turn mushy. Remove from heat and cool beans in their cooking liquid (save liquid for the soup; discard kombu (if it’s broken down into small pieces it’s fine to leave it in), garlic clove and thyme sprig).
Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, fennel, and celery. Cook until vegetables are beginning to soften, 5 to 6 minutes, then add garlic and crushed red chile and cook another 2 minutes.
Add stock, bouquet garni, wild rice, cooked beans, and about 3 cups of the bean cooking liquid. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Add escarole and cook 5 minutes more. Remove bouquet garni. Taste broth and season with salt and black pepper, if needed.
Serve in bowls finished with a drizzle of olive oil, grated Parm and chopped herbs.