I've been making this soup for years; it's one of the first things as an adult I figured out how to make after tasting it and falling in love with the flavors. It's hearty, it's filling, it's very easy to pull together, and it's wonderfully delicious in a very homey way.
This is an Italian-style soup, discovered when I did a term abroad in Florence during my undergraduate degree. I lived with an Italian woman who was a wonderful cook and who opened my eyes to a whole new way of cooking (and eating - I gained about 6 pounds from living with her for 3 months. Pretty impressive). This soup began making an appearance in my Italian home during the autumn, as the weather grew colder and the daylight shorter, and it's very much linked in my mind to staving off any outdoor chill with a warming bowl of goodness.
It is more than halfway to a stew, it's so thick; adding in some spinach, kale, or chard at the end of the cooking, quickly fried in a bit of garlic, would help tip the balance away from a simple soup. Even without the extra vegetables, though, it's a full meal in one bowl. The beans are nicely soft and should be caught just before they go mushy, and the minimal amount of liquid that remains after all the cooking helps tie the ingredients together and adds to the warming comforting squishiness of eating the dish.
The simple flavors of beans, beef stock, rosemary and garlic are fairly straight-forward, but generous lashings of parmesan cheese at the end really make the difference. The recipe is more of a guide than anything strict to follow; as long as you get the basics correct (the right amount of beans and stock, pasta cooked for the right time, plenty of cheese) you're onto a winner.
Many Bean Soup
Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a starter
- 500 g of mixed dried beans (chickpeas, white beans, and roman beans/borlotti beans are usually my preferred combination)
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
- 2 litres of beef stock or 2 litres of water and 3 beef stock cubes
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 sprigs of rosemary
- salt (about 1 tsp, depending) and pepper
- 250 g ditalini pasta
- (optional: about 300-500 g of spinach or chard and 1 further clove of garlic, well chopped)
- plenty of parmesan
- Soak the beans overnight / during the day to start to soften. Keep the chickpeas separate if using them.
- When ready to cook, bring the stock / water and stock cubes to a gentle boil, adding in the onion, garlic, bay leaf and rosemary.
- If using chickpeas, add them to the boiling stock first and cook for about 20 minutes, covered.
- Add the other beans to the soup, and gently boil, covered, for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- The beans will be ready when they start to shed their shells. Keep in mind that the chickpeas will take the longest to cook, so make sure you check those when testing for doneness.
- When the beans are just about done, add the salt to taste - depending on what type of stock you used, you might need 1/2 to 1 tsp of salt. Take care not to over-salt since the paremesan in the bowl will also help keep this salted.
- (optional: quickly fry up the chopped glove of garlic and the vegetable in a bit of olive oil, turning off the heat before the leafy greens are wilted. Add the contents to the soup just before you put the pasta in, and stir through)
- When the beans are ready, add in the pasta and turn off the heat after 1 further minute of gentle boiling.
- Remove bay leaf and rosemary twigs, and spoon into bowls. Add generous amounts of parmesan into each bowl, stirring through.