April 07, 2021. Dear Daughters: Sure it’s spring, but it’s still early enough for a crave worthy and comforting soup to get you through those days that just don’t realize they’re supposed to be warmer, especially where we all live. This Greens and Beans Soup, a combination of the delicious and economical Italian “peasant foods”- Pasta e Fagioli, and Greens and Beans, is just that soup.
The key to making this soup crave worthy is the flavor boost it gets from the anchovies and parmesan rind or, for the veg heads out there, white miso and nutritional yeast. I do make these ingredients optional if your pantry or budget is limited, but if you can, it’s worth adding them to take this soup to the next level.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
GET YOUR STUFF OUT
- 8 ounces farro, cooked according to package directions (if you wanted to go Old School Dad- substitute 8 ounces of ditalini or other small pasta for the farro)
- 2 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 medium carrot, diced
- 1 medium celery stalk, diced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano or even better, 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
- 1/4 teaspoon, or more to taste, red pepper flakes
- kosher salt and fresh, cracked black pepper, to taste
- 3 anchovy fillets (freeze any leftovers), optional but oh so good!
- 4 garlic cloves, grated or minced
- 6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 (28-ounce) canned, whole tomatoes, crushed with your clean hands
- 1 parmesan cheese rind, a piece about 4”x 2”, optional, but oh so good!
- 3 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 small bunch, about 6 cups, Tuscan or other kale, stemmed and very thinly sliced or equal amount of “meltable” greens, like escarole (bitter) and/or baby spinach (sweet).
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, minced
- 4-6 slices of your favorite bread, toasted and rubbed with a raw garlic clove
- Extra-virgin olive oil, optional
- Parmesan cheese, grated, optional
- Vegan option: Substitute 1-2 teaspoons of miso for anchovies, or to taste, and 1-2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, or to taste, for parmesan cheese.
COOK AND PLAY
Let’s class things up a bit while you make your soup by listening to some opera from the divine Italian coloratura mezzo-soprano, Cecilla Bartoli.
- It’s All About the Base. If you haven’t already cooked your farro, get that going right now! Heat oil in large pot, like a Dutch oven, over medium heat and add onion, carrot, celery, oregano, red pepper flakes and a bit of salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, until onion starts to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the Funk. Add anchovies, smashing up with spoon until evenly distributed, or miso, if using, and let cook for a few minutes before adding garlic for just another minute.
- Broth and Beans. Add broth, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan, then add tomatoes, cheese rind or nutritional yeast, if using, and beans; bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer to blend flavors, at least 15 minutes.
- Finally, the Greens. For the last few minutes of simmering, stir in kale. If greens are not tender after a few minutes (you’ll need to taste them to find out), continue to simmer until they are. This would be a good time to make your garlic toast too.
- Final Seasoning. Fish out cheese rind, if using, and stir in half the parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Service. Portion farro and ladle soup into individual bowls and top with remaining parsley. Serve with garlic toast and, if you have it, extra virgin olive oil and grated parmesan on the side for more flavor.
A Few Words About Pasta e Fagioli. Take away the greens and swap in some small pasta, like ditalini or orzo, for the farro in this recipe and you’ll have yourself some Pasta e Fagioli- a dish that’s been around for centuries. This soup goes back to before Italy’s favorite explorer even “discovered” the Americas when it was made with black eyed peas imported from Africa and less desirable cuts of pork to celebrate the bounty farmers received from their beloved (but not so beloved to be kept as pets) pigs. The proper way to pronounce this soup, along with many other Italian delicacies, has also haunted me since my childhood in upstate NY where my Italian American friends, with cousins in Jersey, would constantly berate me for using all the actual letters and too many syllables in their world where pasta e fagioli was pasta “fazool”; ricotta was “ragot!”, braciola” was “brajol,” mozzarella was “mutzerel”, cavatelli was”cavadeel” and proscuito was “proshoot!”. I do have a Jersey cousin too, but she is Scottish and wasn’t born until my senior year of high school, so who was I to argue.
A Few More Words About Greens and Beans. In some parts of the country, like Pittsburgh, fist fights, or at least loud arguments, can break out over how to properly make a batch of greens and beans, so be careful when discussing this dish in mixed company or in Pittsburgh for that matter. At its essence, it’s minced onion and garlic cooked up in a good amount of olive olive, spicy fresh and/or dried peppers, beans with their cooking liquid and perhaps a bit of broth and a bunch of greens, traditionally escarole. Yes, your greens and beans and this soup will be better if you cook your own beans, but I’m guessing you don’t have time for that, although, I hope you feel differently about farro.
Committing to Whole Grains. Yes, you are making a commitment when you swap out pasta for farro, or any whole grain, in this soup or other recipes, but it’s worth it in terms of flavor and nutrition if you ask me. Sure, the pasta will cook in about 10 minutes, while whole farro can take up to 40 minutes, but whole farro delivers a more dynamic flavor, with a nutty bite, and so much more nutrition than the pasta, it’s worth every minute. There are quicker cooking farros out there- semi pearled cooks in 20-30 minutes and pearled cooks in 15-20 minutes, but they are technically not whole grains and not as nutritious as whole farro because some or all of the bran has been removed. It may also help get you started on the road to whole grain commitment, if you make large batches when cooking whole grains and use eco-friendly, reusable containers to freeze the leftovers in serving sizes so you can have it ready in no time for your future cooking pleasure.
Don’t Hate on Anchovies. Anchovies have always gotten a bad rap in my opinion. Since at least one of you eats fish, I implore you to give anchovies a chance to add a deep, alluring and not at all fishy flavor to many sauces and dressings. The little fish fillets in this soup melt right into the mix, leaving nothing but big, bold and delicious flavors in their wake. Anchovies are packaged in oil or salt and in a paste- I typically use oil packed for convenience and flavor. Dad Tip- Fish Sauce, which is often made with anchovies, is a convenient substitute for anchovies and I often use it when I don’t feel like dealing with a tin of anchovies.
Keyword: Italian, soups, whole grains, vegetarian and vegan option
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