Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Cannellini Bean Soup with Shallots, Tomato and Manchego

It's Soupruary! Spoiler: I still like soup!

I'm actually in Ghana at the moment, which goes a little something like this:

It also goes a little something like not-having-a-kitchen. But I wasn't going to let a silly thing like being out of the country spoil Soupruary, so I took some inspiration from the classic scouting motto/Lion King song "Be Prepared" and did some pre-travel soup cramming, at only the slightest expense of being fully prepared for my trip (I forgot one adapter; big whoop). I actually went so far as to make this soup for breakfast prior to leaving for the airport. Yes, breakfast. When it comes to what constitutes breakfast, I am fully Free Love.

And I feel great about that. See, it never fails that the biggest casualties of my travel preparation are the poor vegetables in my fridge. No matter how much I tell myself I won't have time for too much cooking before I leave, I'm always a bit too optimistic in the face of a Findlay Market Saturday. Suddenly departure day is upon me and the little beauties I had such hopes and dreams for, all the dog-eared cookbook pages and magazine tear sheets...there comes a point where you have to say "we'll get 'em next time, tiger" as you're sprinkling your junk mail with jalapeño halves and a cucumber that just wanted to be pickles if you'd only had a bit more time.

This time I did better than usual. I tore through my perishables like a champ, even dutifully making a midnight snack of garlicky wilted spinach on my last night in the nursery. But as I went to clean out the fridge in the morning, there were still a few doomed ingredients. Staring them down, I couldn't bare to to part with them. 

The real tipping point were the shallots. They deserve more credit than usual here because they came from the weekend's batch of Marcela Hazan's dreamily simple tomato sauce. Her recipe says to discard them, but (as is the theme of this entire post) waste not/want not, eh? This made everything go very quickly, as my shallots had been previously slow simmered to nearly-spreadable silk with San Marzano tomatoes and Our BFF, Butter. My tomatoes, as well, were leftovers, hanging out with the shallots for the last few days just begging to be soup. So, not only do they deserve a merit badge for flavor (second scouting reference?), they also basically forced me to do something other than grab a granola bar this a.m. 

Those leftovers came together perfectly with garlic, canned beans (also leftovers), broth and herbs to make a warming and filling meal that made me feel accomplished in a way beyond the usual "I left for the airport without forgetting my credit card or phone" miracle. 

I don't have an ingredients picture here, because I really wasn't sure what I would end up using. Turns out the answer was "everything but the radishes." Maybe I didn't dream big enough.

The last ingredient I didn't want to mourn was a tiny chunk o' manchego. I didn't know exactly how it would behave, but a happy accident it was indeed. It melted, yes, but manchego is a sturdy cheese and maintained its integrity instead of disappearing into the soup proper. Just the concept of noodles of oozy cheese makes the orchestra section of my heart immediately start warming up, but happening upon them in the middle of running around trying to figure out how to get out the door? It was a surprise food moment that made everything swirling around me stop for a minute and all I could see was soup. Love at first ooze.  

Okay, so that was a bit grandiose. This is clean-out-the-fridge soup; we're not talking life-changing deliciousness. But that's the best part: even in a simple thing like this, you can create a pause. A minute or two to slow down, play with the cheese on your tongue and appreciate the arresting power of visceral pleasures.

Speaking of, I sprinkled on a bit of cayenne at the end, but that was more for pretty than for anything else. We can all use a bit of rouge now and then. 

Summary: Turned potential garbage into soup, and it was pretty good garbage.
Same soup, different angle (because I'm so rusty at this that I forgot to take literally any other pictures).
Cannellini Bean Soup with Shallots, Tomato and Manchego
Serves 1 as a meal, 2 as a starter

Note: I wrote this recipe as though you weren't starting from leftover shallots/tomatoes, but you won't be mad if you make both (link to tomato sauce above).

Splash of olive oil
2 shallots, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained 
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
A few sprigs each parsley, rosemary and thyme (or whatever herbs you have lying around), plus a few leaves of parsley garnish
A wee knob of manchego or other meltable cheese 

Heat olive oil in a small pot over medium-low heat and add shallots and garlic with a pinch of salt. Stir occasionally until the shallots are soft and translucent but not browning. At this moderate level of heat, you can pretty much leave them alone for 5 minutes or so and not really think about them. Multitasking time! I cooked mine about 10 minutes total at this stage. 

Add broth, tomatoes, beans and herbs, plus salt and pepper if the broth you're needing needs it (I used Better than Bouillon vegetable base and only added pepper). Bring to a simmer and let it go 20 minutes or so to allow those fresh herbs to flavor up the broth. Another great multitasking opportunity here - as long as you aren't boiling the living day lights out of it, you can kinda set it and forget it until you're ready to eat. 

Remove pot from heat and remove and discard herb stems. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. Here you could choose to strain it through a fine mesh strainer if you're feeling like a fancypants, but I was more antsypants and therefore didn't bother. With these ingredients you really can get it pretty smooth sans strainer. 

Check for seasoning and add salt or pepper if you feel the need to. Top with shredded or shaved cheese and finely chopped parsley, and a light dash of cayenne if you'd like. 

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