Me & Mr. Bean

“When young professionals and the socially hip raise chickens in their backyards, newspapers do articles with slideshows. When us Mexicans do it? People call code enforcement.” — Gustavo Arellano

So it must be for the resourceful peasants of Italy when they see their leftover bean soups appearing on the menus of fashionable trattoria in New York and Los Angeles. Something born of necessity and created from leftovers in Tuscany became something craved by starlets after their yoga class in Santa Monica.

Ask a hundred Italians how to make it, and you’ll get a hundred different recipes. And they’ll all be equally good. I’ve had countless variations of this soup in Italy, and in the states. I’ve made countless variations — some with bread, some with carrots and meatballs, meatless variations for vegetarians, and so on. Here’s a simple recipe that’s sure to please your guests. If you don’t eat meat or if you’re having yoga students over, leave out the pancetta. It won’t be quite as good. But that’s the burden you’ll have to carry…

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Sopa de Fagioli
Serves 4 -6

1 quart chicken stock
1 cup borlotti beans (or cannellini or red kidney beans)
A few slices of pancetta or bacon, chopped up
1 onion
1 cup roughly chopped cavolo nero (Tuscan kale)
1 sprig rosemary
1/2 cup small pasta (orrechiete, macaroni, etc.)
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
salt & pepper to taste

Soak the borlotti beans over night. Then cook covered in water over medium heat for about an hour to an hour and a half, or until tender (add more water if needed). Simmer until most of the water is gone, and turn off heat.

Cook the pancetta in half the olive oil (1/8 cup) in a small pan over medium heat until it is well cooked, but not crisp. Add chopped onion and rosemary and cook for a couple minutes until onion is golden. Remove rosemary. Add onion/pancetta mixture to the chicken stock, along with the kale and the beans. Add remainder of olive oil, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add dried pasta, cover, and cook over medium low for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt to taste.

To plate, ladle a good scoop or two of the soup into a bowl, drizzle with more olive oil and top with a twist of freshly ground black pepper. You could also add a sprinkle of crushed red pepper to give it a little heat, or sprinkle some parmesan over the top for an additional layer of flavor. Enjoy!

And here’s a fun kids outtake: