By sunny, I am referring to the warm color of this rich, satisfying soup. Both the color and the weight of the soup go straight to the core of your body, stoking up a delightfully warm and protective sensation; so good for us human being in cold weather.
My “sunny” recipe is a variation on the traditional thick bean soup made in Lucca, my ancestral Italian home town. The traditional soup includes cabbage/kale, lots of olive oil, and a chunk of day-old crusty bread at the bottom of the bowl. I’ll include an option for serving the soup the traditional way at the end of the recipe.
2 cups cooked pinto, small brown or cranberry beans ( I prefer dry beans which have been cooked in the morning or on the previous day; canned beans are acceptable)
bean cooking water (Italians call this “slippery water”: the water saved from cooking the dry beans; toss the water from canned beans since it is usually very salty)
1/2 cup barley soaked overnight in 2 cups of water and a pinch of sea salt. Cook the barley for 30 minutes in the soaking water.. Drain, saving the barley water.
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 small onion chopped
- 3T olive oil
Heat olive oil in soup pot. Add onions, stir and cook 2-3 minutes. Add chopped garlic, stir and cook another 3 minutes.
*OPTIONAL NON-VEGAN ingredient- Add 1 t chopped pancetta or prosciutto to the garlic and onion mixture
While the onions and garlic are cooking, dice & slice:
- 1 carrot diced
- 1 stalk celery diced
- 5 button or crimini mushrooms sliced
Add the vegetables to the onion and garlic. Stir. Put a lid on the pot. Lower the heat. Cook about 5 minutes, lifting the lid and stirring every minute or so. Add a pinch of sea salt.
Meanwhile, cut chunks the size of half-a-thumb:
2/3 to 1 cup butternut squash. You can use another variety of winter squash–buttercup, curry or hodaiko– if that’s what you have in the house.
Stir squash into the sauteeing vegetables. Cook 2 minutes.
Add the beans and 2 cups of liquid–bean cooking water, barley water, regular water–into the soup pot with the vegetables.
*OPTIONAL NON-VEGAN ingredient: Add a 2-inch square of parmesan heel ( the hard part of the cheese you can’t grate)
Cook the soup for 45 minutes with a lid. Put the pot on top of a heat deflector so as not to burn the bottom of the soup. Stir every once in a while. While the soup is cooking, add about 1/2 t sea salt. Add more liquid, too, if needed. Soup is neither as thick as mud nor as thin as broth.
*OPTIONAL VEGAN ingredient: Add a dash of liquid smoke…just a dash..and don’t use the liquid smoke if you’ve used the pancetta or proscuito.
After 45 minutes take your potato masher in hand and stampede it around the soup pot, breaking up the butternut squash chunks and some of the beans. Serve immediately or turn off the heat and wait until suppertime. If dinner’s more than a four hours away, cool off the soup and put it in glass jars and into the refrigerator. Reheat at mealtime.
Before serving, heat the soup. Add the cooked barley during the last minute of heating. Ladle “sunny” soup into big flat soup bowls, or pasta bowls. Garnish with a sprig of parsley and an optional drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper on top to taste.
4 servings. 320 calories each serving.
OPTION: TO SERVE LIKE THE LUCCANESE:
Don’t use barley.
Steam and drain a cup of finely chopped cabbage, kale, collards. Potatoes, thinly sliced are another delicious addition.
Slice stale bread in thin diagonal strips. Rub the bread with garlic.
Pour a good amount of great green extra-virgin olive oil in the bottom of each soup bowl. Line soup bowl with bread. Add a bit more oil on top of bread. Scatter the steamed cabbage. Ladle the “sunny” soup over the bread. Serve with more olive oil.