Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cannellini Bean and Chard Soup

This soup is hearty and perfect for cold and gray rainy days. It also is pantry-friendly and tastes like it took much more than only 20 minutes to make. Earlier in the week I made eggs with spicy, garlicky chard (recipe to come!). I had a few stalks of the chard leftover, pancetta and chicken stock in the freezer, a can of cannellini beans in the pantry, and some fresh oregano in the herb pot Matt tends for me on the windowsill. The following recipe makes enough soup for two people when put out with a crusty bread for dipping.

I defrosted 2 cups of chicken broth in the microwave. You can also use broth from a can or box (Swanson's or Imagine are my preferred brands, low sodium on both). Another great thing to keep in the freezer are slices of pancetta. I get about a half dozen 1/4 inch slices at the deli every couple months. I individually plastic wrap each one and put into a bag in the freezer. With a good sharp knife, it is easy to cut the frozen pancetta.

So, small dice a 1/4" thick slice of pancetta. In a 3 quart pot, cook the pancetta over medium heat until rendered and crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta and set aside in a small bowl. Leave the rendered fat in the pot.

Next, add half a medium-small onion, finely chopped. Cook in the pancetta fat over medium heat until softened. Then, add a small clove of garlic, minced. Stir for about 30 seconds, do not let it brown. Pour in two cups of broth and one cup of water. Bring to a simmer.

Take a few leaves of chard off of the stems and ribs and chop the leaves into strips (I like red chard when I can get it, but regular chard would work just as well). If you want you can very, very thinly slice the stems and add those too. Drain and rinse a can of cannellini beans, and divide in half (save the other half in the fridge or freezer to make a quick bean and tuna spread later in the week). Add the half can of beans and chard to the simmering broth. Simmer gently for about 5 minutes, add a few inch sprig's worth of chopped fresh oregano or thyme (no fresh herbs? add a 1/2 tsp of dried oregano or thyme with garlic before adding broth). Season with a few grinds of black pepper. If you used store bought stock, you will not want to add salt. But if you are using homemade chicken broth and like me, keep the salt low for more flexibility in later will want to add maybe a 1/2 tsp of salt.

Serve with chewy crusty bread for dipping. Sprinkle the soup with reserved pancetta or freshly grated parmigiano, or both, or neither. If not using either topping, maybe add another 1/2 tsp of salt to the pot before serving.

Obviously the little bit of pancetta doesn't make this a *healthy* soup. But it is a very small amount of cured pork, and the beans and chard are very good for you, as is homemade chicken broth.

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