By Susan Jenkins
This month’s column takes us back to Italy, specifically the Italian Riviera. The province of Liguria, on the country’s northwestern coast, is the stuff of postcards and novels—a crescent-shaped slice of heaven that stretches from France to Tuscany (the home of our dish).
Steep green hills plunge dramatically into the deep blue sea, pastel houses perch on cliffsides and fuchsia bougainvillea vines cascade off balconies. The streets flank secret, overgrown gardens, and ornate iron gates conceal mansions from a bygone era of grandeur.
I was lucky to spend three days soaking up the charm of La Spezia, a spectacular port situated around halfway between Genoa (in Liguria) and Pisa (in Tuscany). Someone wise had recommended that I book a table at Ristorante Petronilla, which allowed me to join the crowd of loyal locals eating succulent seafood and fresh pasta cooked to order.
My third glass of wine made me think I was fluent in Italian. The servers, as gracious and patient as they were friendly and knowledgeable, never let me know otherwise.
It was at Ristorante Petronilla that I first tasted this wonderful Tuscan bean soup. The chef even provided the recipe for me to tuck into my suitcase. Now, years later, it still recalls one of my favorite tiny restaurants in one of my favorite places in the world.
TUSCAN BEAN SOUP
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
1 yellow onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 15-oz cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup creme fraiche
1/2 lemon, juiced
1.5 cups ciabatta bread cubes
A handful of chopped Italian parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add butter, allow to melt. Add onion, celery and carrot. Cook and stir until onion begins to turn translucent and golden, about 7 minutes. Stir in garlic; cook for 1 more minute. Add beans and broth. Season with salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme and cayenne pepper. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and let the mixture continue to simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Place bread cubes in a sauté pan. Drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Toast cubes, tossing them occasionally, over medium heat until they’re golden brown and crunchy, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle grated cheese over bread cubes and continue to toast them, about 2 minutes more.
- Puree soup with an immersion blender until very smooth. Whisk in creme fraiche, then stir in lemon juice. Serve topped with bread cubes and chopped Italian parsley.