Posts tagged beans

One More Soup, In Case We Need It

soup

I’m afraid to say that spring is in the air because I don’t want to jinx it. But I’m starting to make some adjustments: I’ve put the puffy winter jacket away in favor of my lighter wool coat. I don’t know where my hat is. And I’m thinking about dishes with ingredients like asparagus and peas. I’m probably getting ahead of myself, but I can’t help it.

So before I get carried away by the warm air and chirping birds outside, I’m going to tell you about another soup, this time a lovely, rustic combination of Swiss chard, barley, and cannellini beans. It’s hearty, healthy, and totally appropriate for fall or winter. Let’s think of it as the final chapter in my cold weather soup series, and perhaps it will be useful when that last gasp of winter rolls around in a week or two. (Come on, you know it will. I’m sure it’s getting ready to pounce.) 

There’s another interesting aspect to this soup, besides its ability to keep the cold weather at arm’s length: It marks the first time I cooked with pearl barley. I’m always looking for ways to increase the amount of grains in my diet, and I have often read that barley works well in soups and stews. Pearl barley is not the most nutritious grain out there—it is polished so that both the outer hull and the nutritious layer of bran are removed. But many people like working with it because it cooks faster and is said to be less chewy than other unprocessed forms of barley.

Mixed with the mild Swiss chard and hearty beans, the pearl barley added a light, spongy element to the soup to create a gentle, satisfying meal from start to finish. The next time I make this soup, I think I will shift some of the steps around and add the Swiss chard at the end instead of cooking it for 40 minutes as suggested in the recipe. Not only would this reduce the cooking time a bit, but I think the greens would retain more nutrients if they were cooked for a shorter period of time. So that’s my only advice for you regarding this soup. But you know what? I hope that spring sticks around and you don’t need it anytime soon.

Recipe for Swiss Chard, Barley, and Cannellini Bean Soup (Adapted from a recipe by Marcella Hazan that appeared in Food & Wine magazine many years ago. It has been in my collection for a long time, but I cannot find it online.)

  • 1 bunch of Swiss chard, washed
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 cup chopped canned tomatoes in their juice
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 1 15-ounce can of cannellini beans, drained
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese

Cut the leaves of the Swiss chard away from the stalks. Slice the stalks crosswise into small pieces. Slice the leaves into strips about 1/4 inch wide.

Heat the olive oil and onion in a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally, until onion is slightly softer, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot and celery and cook until soft, about 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the Swiss chard and season with a bit of salt. Cover and cook over very low heat for about 40 minutes. Stir once or twice.

At the same time you start cooking the onion in the large soup pot, bring 5 cups of water to boil in a medium pot. Add the barley and simmer over low heat, partly covered, until tender. This will take about 35 minutes. Drain the barley but reserve the cooking water.

Add the beans and barley to the chard, stir, and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in 2 1/2 cups of the barley water, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat. Serve in bowls with freshly grated Parmesan. You can thin any leftovers with water if it seems too thick. Serves 4 to 6. Enjoy!

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Falling for Favas

Spaghetti with Fresh Fava Bean Pesto

I’m finally back from Singapore, and I have to be honest: Although I enjoyed my two previous trips there, I just wasn’t feeling the love this time around. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for the travel experience, but as I strolled through the glittering, air-conditioned shops of Orchard Road I just kept thinking about how much I wanted to come home.

Of course one of the reasons for my homesickness had to do with food. There’s nothing wrong with Singapore’s cuisine; in fact, a few months ago I told you all about its fantastic hawker stands and amazing ethnic eats. But I was craving my local spring vegetables. Fresh greens, asparagus, peas…I couldn’t wait to get back to New York and stir up some seasonal treats of my own.

So as soon as I returned to Brooklyn I drove straight to Fairway and stocked up on piles of vegetables, including a bag full of fresh fava beans.

It’s funny that I was so fixated on favas last week, because I don’t like beans. It’s true. As a child my stomach sank at the sight of my mother’s pasta fagioli, and it still does. (Sorry, Mom!) A few weeks ago, in an attempt to cure my aversion to them, I cooked a big batch of cannellini beans with fresh herbs and dressed them with olive oil. Nope, didn’t work.

But for some reason I had greater hopes for these favas. I wanted to utilize them in a pasta-related way, and after a bit of thought I decided to purée them into a pesto. It was remarkably easy. I simply threw the shelled beans into my food processor with a bit of mint and garlic, a squeeze of lemon, an ample amount of olive oil, and some salt and pepper. 

When combined with the cooked spaghetti, the pesto released all the potential lurking in those little beans. Now I realize that my problems with beans might be more related to texture than anything else. The silky, smooth sauce gave off hints of light, nutty flavor as it clung to the spaghetti strands. As I twirled bite after bite onto my fork, it felt great to be home.

Recipe for Spaghetti with Fava Bean Pesto

  • 1 pound of dried spaghetti
  • 1 cup of shelled fava beans (see prep method below)
  • slightly less than 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 small clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 of a fresh lemon
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Shell the fava beans from their long pods. Add fava beans to the boiling water. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the fava beans from the boiling water. Reserve the cooking water, as you can use it again for the pasta. Remove the thin outer shell from the fava beans; it should slip off very easily. You will be left with small, bright green, little pods.

Bring the cooking water back to a boil and add the spaghetti to the pot. While the pasta cooks, turn your attention to the pesto. Using a food processor, purée the fava beans, mint, garlic, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice together. Slowly add the olive oil while pulsing the ingredients together, until you reach your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Taste the pesto, and season it to your liking. I always spend a lot of time tinkering with my pestos. In this recipe, I have used very little garlic because I didn’t want it to overwhelm the dish. Feel free to increase it if you like.

When the pasta is ready, drain it but reserve at least 1 cup of cooking water. Add the pesto sauce to the drained spaghetti and stir together. If the pesto sauce clumps together, slowly add the cooking water and stir until the pesto is evenly distributed.

Spoon the pasta into individual bowls. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and fresh black pepper. Add a small drizzle of olive oil to each serving. Serves 4 as a main dish. Enjoy!

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