Tuscan Cannellini Beans with Shallots and Pancetta

tarry-marketSeveral weeks ago, Sheila and I enjoyed lunch at Tarry Market in Port Chester. Tarry Market is the brain-child of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianach and is a mini-Eataly for Greenwich residents who detest traveling to New York City.  Tarry Market has undergone a bit of makeover toward the end of last year, when they greatly expanded their dining facilities. I wouldn’t recommend it for dinner, but it is something of a cross between an Italian salumeria and a French Bistro. We go there frequently for lunch and are rarely disappointed. We will normally order one of their delicious sandwiches from the rotisserie (prime rib, porchetta or veal) with the daily soup. One day we were served a very tasty cannellini bean soup with some escarole or kale and Sheila decided to recreate this belly-warming soup at home.

Borrowing inspiration from Delia Smith’s Winter Collection, she prepared a variation of Tuscan White Bean soup with frizzled shallots and pancetta (Sheila’s variations are highlighted in bold). (Note:  The pancetta and shallots add a bit of crunch.  Definitely worthwhile). Enjoy.

Variations on Delia’s Tuscan White Bean Soup with Frizzled Shallots and Pancetta

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 8 oz of cannellini beans
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 good sprig each of parsley, thyme and rosemary (Sheila added additional rosemary)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 head of escarole (chopped)
  • A small rind of parmesan cheese (This addition makes any soup taste great!)
  • 2 pints of chicken stock
  • 4 Tbs of extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • Salt and freshly milled pepper

Ingredients for Frizzled Shallots and Pancetta Garnish

  • 4 shallots, peeled and finely sliced into rings
  • 3 oz thinly sliced pancetta or streaky bacon
  • 3 Tbs of olive oil

Preparation of the Tuscan Soup

  • Soak beans overnight in twice their volume of cold water.  Drain before cooking.
  • Heat 2 Tbs of olive oil in a saucepan and sauté onion until is softens (5 minutes)
  • Add escarole and cook down (2 minutes or so)
  • Add garlic and continue to cook for one minute.
  • Add the drained beans, parmesan rind, celery, herbs, ay leaf and black pepper (but no salt).  Pour in the stock and stir well.
  • When soup begins to boil, turn down heat to a gentle simmer and place the lid on the pot.  Cook for 1 1/2 hours stirring occasionally.
  • Check to see if the beans are tender and then gently mush a few of the beans and continue for another 10 to 15 minutes or so.
  • Add lemon juice and 2 Tbs of olive oil shortly before serving.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Remove parmesan rind.  Allow it to cool slightly and then cut in small pieces and return to soup.

Preparation of Frizzled Shallots and Pancetta

  • Roll pancetta into a cigar shape then cut into fine shreds.
  • Heat 2 Tbs olive oil at high temperature and add shallots cooking them for about 3 to 4 minutes.  Remove and allow to drain.
  • Add 1 Tbs olive oil to the same pan and fry the pancetta for 2 minutes or so.  Drain.

When you are ready to serve the soup, sprinkle the shallots and pancetta over the soup.  It doesn’t get much better than this!

 

Tuscan Cranberry Bean and Shrimp Salad

One of our favorite late summer recipes is Tuscan Cranberry Bean and Shrimp Salad.  Fresh cranberry beans are tough to find unless you frequent the farmer’s market in your neighborhood.   I shell the beans and Thérèse does the cooking.  Not sure what the Tuscan element is, but it is probably the pancetta which makes everything taste better.  This recipe comes from Bon Appetit and judging from the number of stains on the recipe appears to have been published around 2000.

Tuscan Cranberry Bean and Shrimp Salad

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 1/2 cups fresh (frozen if desperate) shelled cranberry beans
2 thyme sprigs
1 small rosemary sprig
2 Tbs finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, stems reserved
1 bay leaf
2 garlic cloves – one minced, one crushed
Kosher salt
Water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 oz finely chopped pancetta
1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and de-veined
3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper

Preparation

  • In a medium saucepan, combine the beans with thyme, rosemary, parsley stems, bay leaf, crushed garlic and 1 tsp of salt.  Cover with water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to moderate, cover partially and cook until the beans are tender, 15 to 20 minutes (Note:  We prefer 30 to 40 minutes.  They should be firm but cooked).  Drain the beans and discard the herb stems, bay leaf and garlic clove.
  • Heat 3 Tbs of the oil in a large skillet.  add the pancetta and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes.  Add the shrimp and minced garlic an cook, tossing, until the shrimp turn pink, about 2 minutes.  Add the lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute longer.
  • Add the beans and cook, tossing, for 1 minute.  Stir in the chopped parsley and the remaining 1 Tbs of olive wall.  Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy.

Quick Tortellini and Spinach Soup

Back in the early 70s when we were living in Rome, the Italian government introduced an austerity program to encourage Italians to eat chicken.   I still recall the tag line of “un bel pollo valle por quatro.”   Liberally interpreted, it claims that a whole chicken serves four.  Presumably, some government bureaucrat decided that Italians were eating far too much veal and that Italy could boost meat exports to France if Italians would simply consume more chicken.  I have no idea if the plan worked, but I have always found chicken to be one of my favorite culinary memories of Italy.    In fact, there was a delightful restaurant in EUR (Mussolini’s contribution to Fascist urban planning) on the outskirts of Rome that served a most delectable pollo alla diavola.

Thinking of Rome brings back such vivid memories that I do have to relate the following “austerity” story that has absolutely nothing to do with food, but speaks volumes about Italian improvisation.   Newspapers in Rome at that time cost 90 lire (the dollar was roughly equivalent to 520 lire).  Unfortunately, it cost far more to mint the coins than they were worth.  As such, the government simply suspended issuing new coinage.  This did not deter the Italian news vendor.  When presented with a 100 lire note, you would receive two buttons as change rather than a 10 lire coin.   A work colleague and good friend  (a Milanese) was incensed at the cavalier attitude of  Roman newspaper vendors and one day showed up to buy his daily newspaper with 18 buttons that he had received as change.   After much good-humored haggling, gesturing and mutual condemnation of a corrupt and ineffective government, my good friend walked away with his newspaper and two “new” buttons.   The newspaper vendor had a crisp new 100 lire note and an 18 button tip.  Both seemed satisfied with the exchange.

Now there are few things better or more economical than a roasted organic chicken.  In fact, a roasted chicken often serves more than four if you make homemade chicken stock from the carcass and leftovers.  To make the chicken stock, simply cover the carcass in water, add a carrot and quartered onion (celery optional), bring to a boil and let the pot simmer for 2 to 3 hours.  Strain it through a clean cotton towel and you should have about 5 to 6 cups of stock.    Imagine, a roasted chicken that serves four and homemade chicken stock to boot all for under $10.

The Quick Tortellini and Spinach Soup from Cold-Weather Cooking by Sarah Leah Chase uses 9 cups of chicken broth so you might want to consider adjusting the ingredient proportions or top up with store-purchased chicken broth.  For those interesting in cooking trivia, Ms. Chase is one of the co-authors of The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook.  Our heavily used edition dates back to 1990.  The addition of the fresh spinach takes the “Winter-look” out of this hearty soup and makes you think of Spring!

Quick Tortellini and Spinach Soup

Ingredients

2 Tbs of olive oil
2 ounces of pancetta, finely diced (I recommend doubling this)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
9 cups homemade chicken broth
2 tsp dried Italian herb blend (be generous)
9 ounces best-quality commercial spinach or cheese tortellini (a little extra is always nice!)
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes packed in purée
8 ounces frest spinach, rinsed well, stemmed and coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preparation

  1. Heat the olive oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add the pancetta, garlic and onion; cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Add the chicken broth and Italian herbs.  Bring to a boil and stir in the tortellini.  Simmer uncovered until the tortellini is cooked, about 10 to 12 minutes.  Stir in the crushed tomatoes and simmer another 5 minutes.  Add the spinach and cook just until wilted, about 3 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Ladle the hot soup into bowls and top with a liberal sprinkling of grated Parmesan.

This delightful recipe makes six to eight servings and, contrary to expectations, the tortellini don’t fall apart when the soup is reheated.