Simple White Bean Soup

 Fancy up a simple white bean and pancetta soup with feta, olives and a rosemary-smoked paprika oil.

I have a bad habit.  Let me rephrase that.  I have many bad habits, but only one that I'll be sharing with you today.

I tend to get a little overly ambitious with my weeknight cooking.  Every Sunday morning, I relax in front of the TV with a couple cookbooks and plan my weekly menu.  In relaxed, Sunday morning mode, I tend to forget the frantic pace of weeknights and plan a few meals that might not lend themselves to making it on the dinner table in 45 minutes or less.  When I run across a gorgeous recipe for chicken enchiladas with a homemade enchilada sauce, I say YES.  And why not make the corn tortillas from scratch while we're at it?  Lentil meatballs that require cooking lentils, cleaning, chopping and sauteing 5 types of vegetables, letting the mixture cool for 25 minutes, forming 25 meatballs and roasting for half an hour sounds totally do-able for a night I have yoga practice at 7 pm, right?  Even breakfast isn't immune.  The week I made smoked salmon and fried egg sandwiches I was late to work every day.  Worth it.

With everything going on right now - work, blogging, maintaining a social life and marriage, trying (and failing) to catch up on scrapbooking 4 years of travel and wedding pictures - I've been making a conscious effort to simplify my meals.  So, dinner has been lots of eggs and soup.  If you don't like frittatas or vegetable soup, you might want to go ahead and unsubscribe.

Bean soups and salad have always been a regular on our dinner table.  Don't let the boring ingredients list with this recipe scare you off.  Even without the garnishes, it packs a ton of flavor, much more than I expected.  The homely vegetables in this recipe, most of which you likely have in your refrigerator as we speak, sauteed with the fat rendered from a bit of pancetta is enough to make a full-flavored soup.  Although dry beans take longer to cook, I think it's a smart choice in a dish where they are the main ingredient.  Canned white beans are perfectly fine to use, but they don't soak up as much flavor from the broth.  While my beans were simmering away, I had plenty of free time to make a quick salad, prep the garnishes and watch a full episode of Dexter do something really productive like clean the house.

I've mentioned before how much I enjoy soups garnished with a couple flavorful toppings.  Oil cured black olives...creamy diced avocado...dollops of yogurt.  I just love the way they mingle with the soup to create another layer of flavor and texture.  For this soup, I made a simple sauce from 101 Cookbooks, appropriately named magic sauce.  This mixture of peppery extra-virgin olive oil, smoked paprika, garlic and wintery herbs is a lovely, homemade condiment to keep on hand.  It magically transforms simply prepared foods into a memorable meal.  It's fantastic drizzled on grilled vegetables, tossed with fingerling potatoes before roasting, and tossed with cooked quinoa, nuts and veggies for a full meal.  Even scrambled eggs perk up with a drizzle of magic sauce!

Okay, so now I'm going to get a little overly ambitious again.  The key to good soup is good broth.  Unfortunately, most store bought broths, especially vegetable, are pretty horrid tasting.  I keep leftover vegetable scraps in a large tupperware container in the freezer, and every month or so when it's full, I make a big batch of broth.  My recipe is pretty straightforward.  Heat a little olive oil in a large pot.  Add veggie scraps, skin and all.  Saute until lightly browned.  Add a few whole peppercorns and fill the pot with water to the top.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about an hour or so.  When it tastes rich, let the broth cool, then strain and freeze it.  Easy peasy.  Here's some good broth makin' tips if you're interested.  If you're sticking with store bought, I really like Trader Joe's organic low sodium vegetable broth (their hearty vegetable broth is aweful and turns everything orange), Earth Fare's vegetable broth, and Kitchen Basics unsalted broth.

Simple White Bean Soup
Author: Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE
Serves: Serves 4
For a vegan version, simply omit the pancetta and feta. Sauce adapted from [url href=""]101 Cookbooks[/url].
  • [b]Soup:[/b]
  • 2 cups dry white cannelini beans
  • 2 ounces pancetta or bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 cup onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup celery, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • For garnish:
  • Feta cheese, crumbled
  • Oil cured black olives, chopped
  • [b]Rosemary-Paprika Oil:[/b]
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 cloves garlic, smashed into a paste
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  1. Soak the white beans in a large bowl of water overnight.
  2. Heat a large pot on medium-high heat. Add pancetta and saute until fat is rendered, about 2-3 minutes. Add onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Saute until tender, another 2-3 minutes. Add drained beans, broth and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, partially cover and simmer about 1 1/2 hours until beans are tender, adding more water or broth if needed. All in all, I probably added another cup and a half of water during cooking. Once tender (test a couple beans to make sure), season with salt and pepper as desired. Remove the bay leaf and discard.
  3. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve garnished with feta, olives and a drizzle magic sauce. Serve with a (simple) green leafy salad.