White Bean Soup with Pancetta or Bacon
Serves 4 to 6
I love bean soups. This bean soup is based on my mother's bean soup and ham recipe, which is in the similar and related recipes links. I decided to make the soup healthier by eliminating the ham and substituting pancetta, a little of which adds a lot of flavor. If you cannot find pancetta, slab or thick-sliced bacon is equally good, just smokier. Sometimes, I add a little of both for extra flavor. However, the meat can be omitted entirely for a delicious vegetarian version. I also made a few changes to my mother's recipe to make preparation a little quicker and easier. This new version received Mom's highest approval.
- 1 pound dried great northern beans
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 ounces pancetta or regular bacon, diced
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 3 large carrots, chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 4 cups water
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) whole tomatoes, crushed with fingers, with juices
- 1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon marjoram
- 1 teaspoon rubbed sage
- 1/2 teaspoon dried savory
- 1 bay leaf
- Pepper to taste
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Rinse and drain beans to remove any grit. Place in a Dutch oven or soup pot. Add water to cover by two inches. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat; cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain completely.
Add the oil to the pot. Heat over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until some of the fat has rendered, about 2 minutes. Add the onions, carrots and celery. Sauté until slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the broth, water, tomatoes, thyme, marjoram, sage, savory, bay leaf and pepper. Return the beans to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the beans are very tender and the soup has thickened slightly, about 2-1/2 hours. Taste for additional seasonings. Serve, passing grated cheese separately.
Notes: I believe this soup has enough salt with the bacon and canned broth. Taste the broth after it has cooked a while and add salt only if needed. For a thicker soup, cook it longer or purée some of the beans with an immersion or regular blender. I must admit that, when we eat soup, we eat a lot. This soup will easily serve six, possibly eight if you add a side salad or sandwich. The recipe can easily be halved.