I am a sucker for Italian cooking. My childhood memories are filled with sensory impressions like: the rich bubble of homemade marinara sauce simmering on the stove; the sweetly-savory, herby scents of garlic, oregano, basil and fennel seed filling our home; a golden crust of melted mozzarella draped luxuriously over the lip of a pan of fresh-from-the-oven lasagna. My mother’s love for all things Italian, was unequaled and many times we found her happily munching away on cold pizza for breakfast or leftover spaghetti.
My parents were not Italian and though they had experienced travel outside of the US, it was not to Italy but instead Germany, where my father was stationed as a border guard, back in the days of East and West Germany and “The Wall”. My mother, had a love of cooking and a natural inclination towards exploration in the kitchen but the times were different. The amount of information they had about world cuisine back then was not what it is today, nor was the availability of ingredients. I scarcely think my mother would have been able to find or have known what broccoli rabe was in those days.
But had she been exposed to Tuscan White Bean Soup with Broccoli Rabe, featured in Emeril’s, Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders , I’d like to think that, maybe, she would have made this a hearty alternative to the giant pot of pinto beans topped with tomato sauce and served with the ($0.15 a box) Jiffy cornbread mix that we ate regularly, during the lean years.
For me, the most memorable version of a Tuscan white bean soup I’ve ever tasted, was at a little mom and pop Ristorante in Siena, Italy called La Circe. Twice-cooked, is how they described their richly-flavored cannelini bean stew with tender wilted greens. Occasionally, when I make the dish at home, I will sometimes add mild Italian sausage, prosciutto or even leftover bacon grease to the mirepoix — the extra flavor bump lets this busy working mom reduce the cooking time, without skimping on richness or taste.
Emeril’s version uses baby lima beans because he says, “we just love their tender, creamy consistency.” You can use whichever white beans are your favorites or that you happen to have on hand, but as Emeril notes, “the cooking time will vary slightly.” So without further ado — here is the first of the three Emeril recipes that “The Cooking Party Bloggers” are able to preview exclusively to our readers:
RECIPE: Tuscan White Bean Soup with Broccoli Rabe
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups small-diced onion
1 cup small-diced celery
1 cup small-diced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
8 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
2 pounds dried white beans (cannellini, baby lima, or great Northern), rinsed, picked over, soaked overnight, and drained
1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind, about 1 × 3 inches
1 bay leaf
4 cups water
1 ½ pounds broccoli rabe, tough stem ends trimmed, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (about 1 ½ cups)
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1. Heat the olive oil in an 8-quart soup pot or stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and ¼ teaspoon of the black pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, dried Italian herbs, and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the stock, beans, Parmesan rind, bay leaf, and water and bring to a low boil. Reduce the heat to simmer gently and cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, 45 to 60 minutes.
2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer about 1 cup of the beans from the pot to a small bowl and mash them with the back of a spoon. Return the mashed beans to the soup and add the remaining 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and continue to cook, uncovered, until the broth thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Add the remaining black pepper, the broccoli rabe, and rosemary sprig and continue to cook until the broccoli rabe is just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and lemon juice. Remove the Parmesan rind, bay leaf, and rosemary sprig and discard them. Serve the soup in wide, shallow bowls, garnished with grated Parmesan and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
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