Just last week I was joking with Winnie that the last thing this blog needs is another bean + vegetable soup recipe. [At last count, I think I’ve got about 18. But I suppose, out of 600+ recipes, that’s a pretty low percentage. Maybe that’ll be my new tagline: only 3% bean + veg soup!] I had no intention of posting this recipe. I was just doing what I do almost every week in the winter: cooking up a pot of beans, sautéeing a mess of vegetables, and whipping up a big batch of soup. They’re always a little bit different, generally tasty and satisfying, but not often chat-worthy, you know?
Two things about this particular soup made it different, and well, chat-worthy: one, it was made with a collection of lesser-used winter vegetables, the wallflowers of the colder months, shall we say, including turnips, parsnips, celeriac, sunchoke and fennel, while eschewing the more typical winter fare of carrots, potatoes, leafy greens and winter squash; and two, I had a completely different dish in mind when I started cooking, more of a stew that did include leafy greens (rainbow chard, from the freezer), winter squash (in the form of pumpkin-juice-as-stock, also from the freezer) and spicy Italian sausage. So what happened? Why did my hearty sausage-and-greens stew become a rather delicate. layered, Meyer-lemon infused white bean soup? I tasted it along the way.
Season to taste: it elicits violent reactions at times. Some people hate it: what the hell is it supposed to taste like? Give me direction, man! Recipe developers understand, however, that one person’s teaspoon of salt is another person’s tablespoon: it’s very hard to give precise amounts for things like acid, sweetener, salt and spices when their sole job is to enhance and play off of the main ingredients in the dish. But this story isn’t so much about seasoning, as it is about tasting; tasting early and often, having the smarts to know when you’ve accidentally stumbled upon something great, and the confidence not to screw it up with pumpkin juice, Swiss chard and sausage.
If I had been following someone else’s recipe, I probably would have added that pumpkin juice, the chard, the sausage. Even knowing, in my heart, that the sautéed veg smelled glorious all on its own, that pumpkin juice was never going to work, that spicy sausage was going to overwhelm the floral Meyer lemon, and the bitter chard was going to derail the balance of the whole dish. I’m glad, then, that I took a minute to taste and think; that I gave myself an out for the thawed sausage, the chopped chard; that I took the soup in the direction it wanted to go, rather than forcing it to accommodate the day’s chest-freezer gleanings.
I think even the most confident kitchen wizards need the occasional reminder: take a beat, taste, and trust your instincts. You never know what you might create.
- 1 lb dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 leek, trimmed, well-cleaned and thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 medium turnips, peeled and diced
- 2 medium parsnips, peeled and diced
- 2 stalks celery, with leaves if possible, sliced
- ½ of a medium celeriac, peeled and diced
- 1 sunchoke, peeled and diced
- 3 stalks fennel, sliced
- 1 stem rosemary
- juice & zest 1 small Meyer lemon
- sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Cook beans. Transfer beans and their soaking water to a medium Dutch oven or bean pot. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until tender, about 1 hour. Add 1 tsp salt about halfway through the cooking process.
- Prep vegetables. Meanwhile, prepare all of your vegetables. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-low heat. Add leek, garlic, turnip, parsnip, celery, celeriac, sunchoke, and fennel. Add a liberal sprinkling of salt and black pepper. Stirring occasionally, sauté vegetables until slightly softened, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add rosemary stem, lemon juice & zest. Sauté another minute, then add a splash of water and remove from heat until the beans are ready.
- Simmer soup & serve. Add beans and pot liquor. Stir and add a splash more water if necessary. Taste and adjust salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until soup thickens and flavors blend, about 20 – 30 minutes. Fish out rosemary stem, taste and adjust salt & black pepper and serve hot. Garnish with a splash of lemon juice or a grating of zest if you like.
- The soup is vegan and quite flavorful as is; that said, you might take it in another direction with some chicken or shellfish stock.
- I did originally plan this soup with sausage added: this is a nice option if you have vegetarians or vegans and carnivores at the table. Grill halved sausages and lay one atop a serving for those who want meat. I’d stick with a sweet or mild sausage however; anything too spicy will overwhelm the flavor of the soup.
Refrigerated for up to 1 week. Frozen for up to 6 months.