Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tomato and White Bean Soup with Spinach Pesto

This is what we’re having for dinner tonight:

My Fresh & Fast Vegetarian Kitchen depends heartily on thick vegetable based soups. Through experimentation I've come to the conclusion that vegetable stocks--either boxed or homemade--aren't always necessary. If you begin your soup by slowly cooking chopped vegetables in olive oil until golden and then add water you'll have a quite nice light broth almost instantly. My winter vegetable soup repertoire is always evolving as I try new combos that are often inspired by what happens to be on hand in my vegetable drawer or at the market on any particular day. The following soup is especially simple. I suggest several variations in the lengthy head note preceding the recipe. I think it can almost be called Tomato and White Bean Soup, Several Ways.

Tomato and White Bean Soup with Spinach Pesto

For this easy, but hearty, soup I like to use the beans I’ve cooked ahead from dried and stashed in my freezer. Freezing gives the beans a soft which is perfect for soups. Canned beans on the other hand can be firm--great for salads--but not as great for soup. The softness of the frozen beans adds a thicker, richer consistency. If you happen to be using canned beans, I suggest mashing them slightly with a fork before adding to the soup.To make the spinach pesto I like to use my big granite mortar and pestle. There is something about the rhythm of pounding that I find soothing, at least in the kitchen. But for those of you who are happily "plugged in" please feel free to use the food processor or blender. Also, if preferred, make a traditional pesto with basil leaves. This is perfect when there are big bunches in our markets or backyard herb garden. And in a pinch you could buy prepared pesto sold in the refrigerated section of many grocers, usually somewhere near the fresh pasta sauces. Another option, and one I use, especially when I'm out of time or energy is to skip the pesto idea, and simply stir 1 bag (5 ounces) baby spinach leaves into the hot soup just before serving. If not using the pesto top each bowl with orange gremolata made by finely chopped one garlic clove, 2 leafy sprigs of Italian parsley and one strip, about 1/2 inch x 3 inches, of orange zest. A light sprinkling of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is also good.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced or grated on a micro plane
3 cups water
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 sprig fresh basil
1 ¾ cups cooked or canned (15 ounce can, drained and rinsed) cannellini or other white beans
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Spinach Pesto:
2 tablespoons toasted pignoli, chopped almonds or chopped walnuts
2 garlic cloves
½ teaspoon coarse salt
2 cups loosely packed baby spinach leaves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano, optional

1. Heat the oil in a large wide saucepan over low heat until hot enough to sizzle the onion. Saute the onion, stirring, over medium heat, until golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute.

2. Add the water, tomatoes, basil and salt; heat to a boil. Stir in the beans. Cover and cook over low heat 20 minutes. Add a generous grinding of black pepper.

3. Spinach Pesto: To toast the nuts place in a small skillet over medium low heat and heat, stirring, until toasted to a light golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to the mortar. Add the garlic and salt and pound with the pestle until nuts and garlic are reduced to a paste. Add half of the spinach leaves, pounding until reduced to a paste. Add the remaining leaves and continue to pound, and stir, until all the leaves are reduced to a paste. Gradually stir in the olive oil. Add the cheese, if using.

4. To serve ladle the hot soup into bowls. Add a spoonful of the pesto to each bowl, dividing evenly.

Makes 4 servings

Fresh & Fast Vegetarian (Houghton Mifflin, 2011)

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