Minestrone with Dried Beans
(Makes 6 generous servings)
For the beans
1/2 pound (about 11/8 cups) dried white beans such as navy, cannellini, or borlotti beans, washed, picked over, and soaked for at least 4 hours
2 quarts water
1 medium onion, halved and peeled
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
For the tomato base
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large or 2 medium carrots, diced (1/2-inch dice, or smaller if desired)
1 celery stalk, diced (1/2-inch dice, or smaller if desired)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, cleaned well, and thinly sliced
3 to 4 garlic cloves (to taste), minced
1 (14.5- or 28-ounce, to taste) can chopped tomatoes with juice
1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon chopped fresh
For the finished soup
2 medium turnips, peeled and diced
A bouquet garni: Parmesan rind, bay leaf, and a couple sprigs each of parsley and thyme
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup elbow macaroni or small shells
Freshly grated Parmesan for serving
1. For the beans: Drain the soaked beans and place in a large saucepan with the water, onion, garlic, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Add salt to taste and continue to simmer another 30 to 45 minutes. The beans should be just tender, or almost. Remove from the heat and use tongs to remove and discard the onion, garlic, and bay leaf.
2. Meanwhile, for the tomato base: Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add the onion, carrots, and celery. Add a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are just about tender, about 5 minutes. Add the parsley and leeks and cook, stirring, until the leeks are slightly wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic along with another generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, just until the garlic smells fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, thyme, and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and smell fragrant, about 10 minutes.
3. Add the beans and their broth to the tomato base and stir together.
4. To finish the soup: Add the turnips and bouquet garni (you can tie the ingredients together with kitchen twine or into a cheesecloth pouch) and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The beans should be tender and the broth very tasty. Taste, adjust the salt, and add pepper to taste. Discard the bouquet garni.
5. Stir in the pasta and continue to simmer until cooked al dente, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve, topping each bowl with freshly grated Parmesan.
Advance preparation: The soup tastes even better a day after it’s made, but don’t add and simmer the pasta until you are ready to serve.
Adapted from The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking