Tuscan White Bean Soup with Frizzled Shallots and Pancetta
If you look down the list of ingredients here you might be forgiven for thinking this doesn't sound very exciting.
Yet Italian cannellini beans transformed into a soup are just wonderful, both in texture and in flavour. The other essential ingredients are fresh herbs and the best Italian extra virgin olive oil you can lay your hands on.
If you're entertaining, make this soup and Black Bean Soup (see recipe below), and serve them together with one or other of the garnishes. All you do is re-heat both soups, then using two ladles, pour both ladlefuls into the warmed bowls at the same time, one from the left, the other from the right. It makes a lovely contrast.
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This recipe is from Delia's Winter Collection. Serves 4
First of all you need to soak the beans in twice their volume of cold water overnight or, failing that, use the same amount of cold water, bring them up to the boil, boil for 10 minutes and leave them to soak for 2 hours.
When you're ready to make the soup, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in the saucepan and gently soften the onion in it for 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and continue to cook gently for about 1 minute. After that add the drained beans, celery, herbs, bay leaf and black pepper, but no salt at this stage. Now pour in the stock and stir well. As soon as it reaches a gentle simmer, put a lid on and keep it at the gentlest simmer for 1½ hours, stirring it from time to time. When the time is up, check the beans are tender and, if not, continue to cook them for a further 15-30 minutes.
When the beans are ready, season with salt, liquidise the soup or process it and pass it through a sieve (or simply sieve the whole lot).
When you are ready to serve the soup, re-heat gently without letting it come to the boil then add the lemon juice, check the seasoning and add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil just before serving. While you're re-heating the soup, make the garnish as follows: roll the pancetta or bacon strips into a cigar shape then with a sharp knife cut them into fine shreds, which you then need to separate out. Now heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over a high heat, and when the oil is hot and shimmering add the shallots and fry them for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don't catch on the base of the pan.
When they are crisp and golden brown lift them on to crumpled kitchen paper to drain, using a draining spoon. Now heat another tablespoon of olive oil in the same pan and fry the pancetta or bacon strips over a high heat for about 2 minutes until they, too, are golden and crunchy. Drain on kitchen paper then serve a little of the shallots and pancetta on the soup as it goes to the table. If you want to make the garnish in advance you can re-frizzle both in a hot frying pan just before serving.