Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”
— A.A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh)
Last week, we had a few rather blustery days here in New York. I feel very Pooh-esque for having said that. But that’s the exact thought that crowded my mind those days as I walked around in the quiet yet crowded streets of NYC, inside-out umbrellas, plastic-bag tumbleweeds and all. They were bad days for women in skirts and hair not close-cropped or pony-tailed. And as luck would have it on one particularly windy day, I was two for two. Oh, bother. All the while I tugged at my peacoat and wrestled with my unruly hair, as ominous clouds loomed above and stray raindrops hit my forehead, I thought longingly of the warm stovestop and shiny stainless soup pot that beckoned me from home. If only I could race there to sweatpants and a hair tie, to have no responsibility for the day other than a pot of soup to tend to. Wouldn’t that be nice?
In previous winters and near-springs, when I needed the down-comforter equivalent of a meal, I’d turn to a classic tomato soup studded with cheesey croutons, spicy chicken tortilla soup that sings with a hint of lime and cilantro or even a bowl of ramen straight from its crinkly little package. But this season, on another random blustery day (blustery in the wintry kind of way) ruled by accumulating snow and a very sparse pantry, I gathered some cupboard staples and let them soften and simmer and mingle all in one big pot. A new favorite was born.
First, there was the papery onions and garlic that reside in my Nana’s fruit bowl. What’s soup without these aromatics? Then there was the giant can of cannelini beans, the one tucked into the far right corner of my top-most cabinet that I almost couldn’t reach. There was a bit of chicken stock, because there always is, which I stretched with equal parts water. There was one last piney stalk of rosemary left from roasted potatoes or herb-rubbed chicken or something of that sort, a few spices from the cabinet and the remnants of my fresh-grated cheese containers, both pecorino romano and parmesan. And then that half lemon–thank goodness!–that lemon wrapped up in cling wrap on the verge of becoming trash, that saved my soup when I thought it was a dud. Those precious few tablespoons of acidity that left no trace of puckery juice, just dazzling vivid flavor that tied it all together.
I wizzed it around in the blender in three batches for a silky smooth consistency and sprinkled it with smoked paprika and drizzled it with olive oil. It was a lovely creamy color, like the falling flakes outside, and it went down ever so nicely on that very blustery day.
White Bean Soup
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 15 oz. cans cannelinie beans, drained and rinsed (also called northern beans, white kidney beans)
2 cups chicken stock (homemade if you have it)
2 cups water
1 tsp white pepper
1 stalk fresh rosemary
½ lemon, squeezed (or more to taste)
1/4 Romano cheese, freshly grated
1/4 cup parmasan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil (optional, for garnish)
smoked paprika (optional for garnish)
Cook onion and garlic over medium heat in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Sprinkle with a little sea salt *salt will both help to soften the onions by drawing out the water, and serve as the first base of flavor. It is better to season as you go along than in one fell swoop at the end. Food needs time to absorb the flavor–think salting pasta water.* Cook until softened, not browned, about 5-10 minutes.
Add beans (drained and rinsed!), stock, water, rosemary, white pepper, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cover pot and allow to simmer for about 40 minutes or until beans are soft and soup is fragrant.
Remove from heat and discard rosemary stalk. Add cheese and stir until incorparated.
For the next part, you will need a blender or food processor. In small batches, add soup to the blender and puree until completely smooth. Working with small batches is important unless you want hot soup splatters all over your kitchen!
Ladel into individual bowls and garnish with smoked paprika and olive or anything else that you like.