It seems that fall has arrived, or the hottest part of the summer is gone. My skin feels a little dryer, I am wearing socks and sneakers more than sandals and I am moving back from salads to soups. While I have been enjoying this soup on some fairly warm days when there is still a plethora of fresh produce available at the markets (peak tomatoes, eggplant and corn), I think it would be a really great snowed-in kind of soup in a few months since it is mostly pantry (versus produce) based.
I really enjoy showcasing fresh ingredients in my cooking, but there will come a time in a few months when that will be a bit more difficult. Quality pantry ingredients become more important and I love heading to the bulk aisle to stock up on my favorite grains (jasmine and basmati rice, barley, polenta, quionoa and lots of milled flours for fresh bread) and legumes (canellinni beans, pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, lentils and a variety of nuts) so that I can pull together a wholesome dinner without going out or using produce that comes from Southern California or Mexico (or worse and more likely: Chile or Peru).
The only fresh ingredients here are staple root vegetables (and an indoor-friendly herb): carrots, celery, onion, garlic and rosemary (one of the only thriving plants in my garden), yet the soup is packed with flavor. It is meatless so a lot of the flavor comes from the stock you use; a homemade fresh chicken stock is best but not necessary. Even without a meat-based stock, there is plenty of meaty, umami flavor from the parmesan rind and tomato paste. These are very simple ingredients that I can easily assume you might have on hand, but well-utilized and delicious.
Veneto-Style Pinto Bean and Rice Soup:
adapted from Northern Italian Cooking by Biba Caggiano (1981, pg 26)
yields 8-10 servings
The bread I paired with the soup comes from Smitten Kitchen. When I took my baking class in culinary school I was excited to learn how to make baguettes but was then terribly disappointed when I realized I couldn’t easily make them at home due to my lack of a proofer and a steam oven. This rustic free-form loaf is actually a lot like a baguette in some ways but doable for a home cook. It isn’t quite as crusty as a true baguette and is described as “rough country bread” that could be found in Italy or France. It was delicious buttered almost directly from the oven and dunked right into this soup, but it was also enjoyed sliced on the horizontal (as in a sub) for sandwiches. Deb’s instructions are perfect so I haven’t bothered to post the recipe so visit her right here.
The soup is best the days after it is cooked as the beans continue to absorb the broth and become more flavorful. The recipe specifically calls for pinto beans which I found strange since it is from a Northern Italian cookbook and this recipe has its roots in Veneto. I have only seen pinto beans used in Mexican cooking in the past and no amount of googling gave me any other evidence of pinto beans in Italian cuisine, but they seemed to be used heavily in this particular book so I went with it and it was delicious. I really enjoy the buttery tenderness of pinto beans, but borlotti beans or canellinni beans would also do well here. Garnish with fresh rosemary and freshly grated Parmesan (you already are using the rind).
A note on equipment: I used my second largest pot to cook all of the beans (a 5 quart pot) and saved my largest pot for the second part of the cooking process (an 8 quart Dutch oven). Anything smaller than 5 quarts would absolutely be too small for this yield. If you only have one large pot, cook the thickening agents (the rosemary, garlic, flour and tomato paste) in a saute pan and then add it to the beans rather than adding the beans to the thickener.
– 2 cups dried pinto beans (I had just a bit less on hand, so I topped it off with some kidney beans)
– 4 cups stock
– 8 cups water
– 2 tbsp + 4 tbsp olive oil (separated)
– rind from parmesan (3-4 oz, or substitute another cheese or prosciutto rind)
– 1 carrot, small dice
– 1 celery stalk, small dice
– 1 onion, small dice
– 1 sprig fresh rosemary, minced
– 2 garlic cloves, minced
– 2 tbsp AP flour
– 2 tbsp tomato paste
– salt and pepper
– 5-6 oz arborio rice (or use a short-cut pasta; orzo, elbow or ditalini)
Soak beans in water (three times the amount of beans in volume) for 8 hours or overnight, drain. Place the strained beans in a large pot (see note on equipment above) with the stock and water, add first 2 tbsp oil (not used for cooking but gives the soup a great sheen), rind, diced carrot, celery and onion. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook covered until the beans are tender, 60-90 minutes, and remove the parmesan rind. When the beans are nearly tender, heat the remaining oil in your larger pot and saute rosemary and garlic until slightly browned and aromatic. Add flour and stir continuously for about a minute. Add 1 cup of cooking liquid from the beans and tomato paste to the oil/flour mixture and stir until incorporated. Add beans, with liquid and aromatics, and stir until the mixture is incorporated into the broth and season with salt and pepper. Add rice and cook for approximately 10 minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked. Best served the next day when the beans are bit more plump and the broth has thickened (the photographs here are of leftovers, so shoot for a less reduced looking version of what you see).