Monday, September 29, 2014

Minestrone Soup with Cranberry Beans & Arugula Pesto

Minestrone Soup with Cranberry Beans & Arugula Pesto
 Serves: 6
Difficulty level: Gourmet
Minestrone Soup with Cranberry Beans & Arugula Pesto
Minestrone Soup is the best vegetable soup ever! Really it is. It’s jam-packed with goodness and will do anyone who eats it the world of good. It's a great way to make the most of seasonal produce – vary your choices throughout the year. Make a big batch of soup, even if you’re only cooking for yourself – you can keep the rest in the fridge for several days or freeze portions to eat another day. The additional beans give it quite the protein boost, making it a meal in itself.
Best beans in the world!
Once again I am using Rancho Gordo Beans – they are truly the best and worth the effort to obtain them. They sell their heirloom beans “new” – meaning they are harvested and dried within a year and then sold to the public. When beans are stored too long, a longer cooking time is needed to soften them. Less cooking time means their delicate flavors are preserved and that they retain their shape when cooked. See Cranberry beans are very thin-skinned with a velvety texture, making them ideal for soups, stews and even refried beans. They are a beautiful dense bean with gorgeous pot liquor due to their thin skin. Other similar beans: borlotti, Wren’s egg, Tounges of Fire and Madeira.

To make the beans:
  • 1 lb dried cranberry beans (For a light soup, one could use white runner beans like Cellini or cannellini, or white navy beans)
  • Water
  • ½ onion finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • Salt

To make Arugula Pesto: (makes 1½ C – you will need much less – or use with other recipes as noted below)
  • 5 C firmly packed arugula, washed, drained and stems removed
  • ½ C firmly packed parsley
  • ½ C slivered almonds
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 9 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
  • ½ C extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ C grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

To make the Soup:
  • 3 to 4 Tb Olive oil (divided)
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • ½ medium head green cabbage, thinly sliced
  • ½ lb white mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 zucchini, halved and sliced into large chunks
  • One 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • ½ lb green beans, trimmed and cut in thirds or half
  • Parmesan rind, optional
  • 4 C vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 C cooked cranberry beans with cooking broth (as above)
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper

To make the beans: Rinse the beans in cold water and check them for small bits of debris. I cover the beans with about an inch of cold water and soak overnight. I do not change the soaking liquid – in fact, I usually use the same liquid when cooking the beans. In a separate pan, sauté the mirepoix – specifically the mix of finely diced onion, garlic, celery and carrot, sautéed in olive oil to soften the vegetables, about 5 minutes. 

Add cooked mirepoix to the soaked beans. Add more water if needed so the beans are completely submerged by at least 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil, and continue boiling for 5 minutes. Then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. I like to see how low the heat can go and still produce the occasional simmering bubble. If too much heat is escaping, cover the pot partially. If the liquid in the pot starts to get low, you can add more warm water. Allow the beans to cook. This can take 1 hour or even 2 hours, depending on the age of your beans. When finished, add salt. Go easy as it takes a while for the beans to absorb the salt. Save beans & cooking liquid for soup. This can be made one day ahead – storing the cooked beans in their broth overnight in the refrigerator. This is roughly the method I use when cooking any of the fresh beans from Rancho Gordo.
Previously Soaked Beans plus mirepoix
To make the Arugula Pesto:
Combine the arugula, parsley, almonds, lemon juice, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse several times until a paste forms, stopping several times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil and process until the mixture is smooth.
Arugula pesto
Add the Parmesan, salt and pepper and pulse several times until well mixed. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use. This can be made 1-2 days ahead and stores for a week in the refrigerator.

To make the Soup:
In a soup pot over medium heat, warm 2 Tb olive oil.  Add the onion, garlic, fennel, and a pinch of salt and sauté until the vegetables are soft and fragrant, about 5-8 minutes. 
Onions, fennel chopped. Green beans added later
Add the cabbage, stir to coat with the oil and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.

Chopped cabbage
Cabbage, fennel, onions after sauteeing
Remove all and set aside on a plate. Putting pot back on stove, warm the last 2 Tb olive oil. Add the mushrooms and zucchini and sauté until softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
Sauteed mushrooms & zucchini
Add the onion/fennel mixture back into the soup pot. Mix well. Add the can of diced tomatoes, optional Parmesan rind and vegetable or chicken broth and another pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Add the green beans and the cooked cranberry beans with their soaking liquid, mix and simmer for 15 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Everything added together...almost soup!
Before serving, remember to remove the Parmesan cheese rind. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and top with a hefty dollop of arugula pesto.  Grab a spoon and enjoy the amazing deliciousness that you have just created.  So very good while being so very good for you!!

The Arugula Pesto is delicious with pasta – just love love love it with angel hair pasta!! – And dresses up grilled chicken or fish.  You can also mix it into your favorite vinaigrette or use it as a sandwich spread.  Also, see Chicken-Arugula Meatballs (– for another use of arugula pesto.

Bon Appetit!


Other recipes featuring the wonderful heirloom beans:
Caribbean Black Bean Soup May, 2014

Red Beans & Rice with Andouille Sausage January, 2013

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