Tuesday, January 8, 2008

White Bean-Fennel Soup

Sometimes through luck or merely endless repetition we hit on something that seems to have been perfectly designed. That's the way I feel about this soup, a delicious melding of earthy white beans and the sweet flavors of onion, carrot and fennel.

I've made the soup so many times I no longer remember when or how it occurred to me to add the fennel. But I think the faint notes of anise lift the humble beans into another realm.

There is a bean soup served in the U.S. Senate dining room that has become famous over the years. Called, appropriately enough "Senate Bean Soup," it is often imitated as a sort of holy grail of the white bean potage. But I wager that my soup is every bit as good, if not better. I make a large quantity of it and freeze it in smaller containers, ensuring that we will have enough to last us through spring.

This recipe calls for chicken stock as a base. But the beans and vegetables are so flavorful, I'm sure you could use plain water for a vegetarian version. I highly recommend it if you have time to sit yourself down with a bowl and watch the snow drift outside the window.

1 pound dried cannellini or Great Northern beans, soaked overnight in plenty of water

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and diced small

1 medium fennel bulb (tops removed), diced small

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced small

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or several sprigs, tied in a bundle)

freshly ground black pepper to taste

7 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)

½ cup toasted bread crumbs for garnish

Drain the beans and set aside. Over moderately low heat, heat olive oil in a large, heavy pot. Add onion, fennel, carrots and garlic, season with salt and pepper. Sweat the vegetables, stirring frequently, until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in thyme and season with pepper.

Add beans and stock. Raise heat and bring soup almost to a boil. Then lower heat and simmer gently, covered, until beans are very tender, 2-3 hours. Remove from heat. Carefully ladle half the soup into a blender and blend until smooth, holding the lid in place with a kitchen towel, or pass the mix through a food mill. Stir puree back into the pot. If it seems too thick, add more stock or water.

To serve, ladle soup into large, shallow bowls and garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and toasted bread crumbs.


Trevor said...

I bet that fennel works great in there.

Susan Hagen said...

Gee that sounds good. I'll try it soon.

Pattie said...

That sounds outrageous, Ed, although my little tiny fennel plants seems to have lost it in last week's biting cold here. But thanks also for the vegetarian version.

greengal said...

Looking at the picture of that soup makes me feel warm and cozy all over. Today is absolutely a soup day!

sugarcreekfarm said...

Timely post - I was looking for a soup recipe to use up a bunch of chicken stock (that wasn't chicken noodle). Will try it soon.

Ed Bruske said...

Trevor, the fennel does work great. The ingredients harmonize so well, you'd hardly know it was there.

Susan, this soups never fails to impress me. Once I start eating it, it's hard to stop. Quick! Put it away!

Pattie, I had some luck two years ago growing fennel, but I didn't study them enough to learn when the best time was to plant them, harvest, etc. We ate some, but others just withered away.

Greengal, I never really tire of making soups. But they do seem to leave a certain glow in the winter and they fill the kitchen with great aromas. I see you're in Takoma Park, MD. You should look up my friend Susan Harris, the Takoma Gardener.

Kelli (I hope I got the name right), I love the idea of you tuning in from Iowa, where I guess it's a good deal more like winter than it is here. (I come from Chicago originally, so I miss all the snow). I also love all the pictures of your farm animals.

Diana Dyer, MS, RD said...

We're all cold and snowy again in Michigan, so I am making your fennel bean soup for tonight. I have my heirloom dried beans that I grew last summer all soaked and ready to go (Cherokee Trail of Tears pole beans). We're still using our homegrown garlic that is holding in storage very nicely, along with the fresh thyme happily growing on a sunny windowsill. Serving with warm homemade bread and home canned organic applesauce, both made by my husband. Yum, yum. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ed Bruske said...

Diana, that meal sounds incredibly good. I can almost taste it. I also had quite a lot of beans--bush lima beans, they were, and more than I thought I could handle. I threw lots in the compost pile and now I'm kicking myself. I could so easily have dried them and kept them for just this time of year. Love the idea of the fresh bread and homemade apple sauce.