The place where I live is, I'm told, covered in snow. I am always cold there—the damp creeps into my bones, the sun rarely shines, and the heat turns off automatically at midnight, converting my room with magical precision from Cinderella's warm steed-drawn carriage to cold, un-insulated countryside pumpkin. Good thing that I came home to Florida for the holidays where it is, lo (figuratively and literally) and behold, in the twenties.
I act disappointed that I will return to England as pale as I left, but really, this is far more exciting. The freshness in the air returns a pluck to your step, and cold in Florida is like a snowday up North—the stuff of spontaneous snowball fights (or cold wet sand fights down here). And amid all the talk of global warming and the white winters of yesteryear, it is good for our collective conscious to be a bit chilly.
But I wouldn't leave you out in the cold without a little something to warm you up. For me, that's always a good thick bean soup that I can fling together with my coat still on, and that is ready by the time I have stripped it off, along with my hat, scarf, and gloves. I flavor this white bean soup with the predominant flavors of Provence (perhaps by way of wishful summer thinking): garlic and rosemary.
This bisque is cheap, simple, and probably the most figure-friendly bisque you're likely to come across. Tracing paper-thin sheets of garlic are quickly fried to chips, and a touch of their oil is used to soften sweet shallots until they perfume the house. Rosemary and cannellini beans have a quick and hot fifteen to twenty minute fling on the stove, and the whole thing is puréed with a drop of cream. The result is rich, warm, comforting, and hearty, but refined, delicate, and modest—and pale as I am in color, even after my Florida holiday.
- 8 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- Olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 shallot, sliced
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 4 15.5-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 quart vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
In a small saucepot, heat just enough oil to deep fry the garlic chips—about 1/4 cup depending on the size of the pot. Heat over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic chips in, and cook until crispy and golden—but not brown and burnt. It takes seconds, so don't take your eyes off them! Remove the chips to a paper towel with a slotted spoon to cool. Reserve the oil.
Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved garlic oil and 1 tablespoon of butter to a stock pot over medium heat. Add the shallot, and sauté gently until just soft—3 minutes.
Drain and rinse the beans, and add them to the pot along with the rosemary sprig (leave the leaves on the stem) and the stock or water. Season with salt and pepper, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. When the soup boils, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
After 15 to 20 minutes, remove the rosemary sprig from the soup and discard. Turn off the heat, and use an immersion blender to purée the soup until smooth. Stir in the cream—the residual heat of the soup will heat it through. Serve the garlic chips as a garnish on top.