In the middle of summer nobody is looking for something to stick to their ribs, but on a snowy evening nothing sounds better. That's one of the nice things about winter, at least when it comes to cooking—the suitableness of soups and stews. Mainstays of an economically-minded cooking life, they are a boon for those of us trying to save a little cash. Nothing stretches longer for less money, whether it's based on legumes, cheap cuts of meat, rice, or pasta. For this reason I've been making a whole lot of bean-based soups around my house, like Cuban black bean and pasta e fagioli. This one, from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries, is one of the highlights.
For the absolute most affordable preparation, dried beans are essential, but for the sake of this column I went with canned. The result was delicious, hearty and filling but made delicate and distinct by the addition fresh tarragon. Rather than a classic start of onions and garlic, the recipe calls for scallions and carrots, which I think adds something of a twist to the usual flavors one expects from a stew. This soup is a great candidate for a stick blender or food mill, but I just smushed it a bit with a potato masher to keep it slightly chunky. A drizzle of olive oil and a twist of black pepper added some spiciness and pungency and cut through the richness.
- 3 14-oz cans white beans, drained and rinsed
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 5 scallions, roughly chopped
- 1 medium-sized carrot, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/4 cup fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
In a large heavy soup pot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat until the butter begins to foam. Add the scallions and stew for 2-3 minutes, then add the carrots and garlic. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the beans and stock and bring to a boil. Add the bay leaves and half the tarragon leaves, turn down to a simmer, and cook for 15-20 minutes until the beans are falling apart. Blend with a stick blender, pass through a food mill, or mash to desired consistency with a potato masher or the bottom of a can.
Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve with the remaining chopped tarragon, a drizzle of olive oil, and fresh black pepper.