The seasons influence what we eat. In the spring and summer, when sugar snap peas, string beans, raspberries, tomatoes, radishes, lettuce or squash from the garden is abundant, we eat what we grow. We eat it until sometimes I can barely face another meal of whatever is in season. If we truly can’t keep up with the harvest, the surplus will get frozen, to be pulled out and thoroughly enjoyed months later.
At this time of year, I have a hard time buying some out-of-season vegetables that we grow in the summer – it just feels wrong. I usually will turn to a can of diced tomatoes rather than the pale, stiff “fresh” ones in produce. The green beans look okay, but I rarely leave with a bag of them. Snap peas in the bins look pale and limp. Sometimes I will give in and bring home a packet or two of fresh herbs, even though they’re expensive.
The good news is that at this time of year I rarely need to buy summer vegetables. The soups I fix are usually hearty, made with beans or barley, and simmered with braised meats or a ham bone. I like to use butternut squash, potatoes, onions, carrots and parsnips. The slow cooker comes out and meals bubble away on the countertop for hours. Citrus fruits are at their peak in the grocery stores now, so we’re eating pink grapefruit, tangerines, and oranges.
I found this recipe the other day and decided to give it a test drive. It turned out remarkably good! It’s not as heavy as a typical bean soup – it felt light, but still filled us up and seemed perfect for a January evening. The recipe didn’t call for it, but I think topping a bowl of this hot soup with a little grated Parmesan cheese would be a great addition. I made cornbread to go along with it – a meal we will repeat with leftovers tomorrow.
White bean soup with fresh herbs and crispy bacon – a recipe modified from Food & Wine. (Recipe can be doubled.)
- ½ pound Great Northern beans
- ½ pound thick-sliced bacon, cut crosswise into ¼-inch strips
- 2 tablespoons reserved bacon drippings
- ½ Spanish onion, finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, finely diced
- 1 celery ribs, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small fresh bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
- 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
- 5 cups chicken stock
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
Pour beans into a colander and pick through them carefully. Rinse. Put rinsed beans in a large sauce pan and cover with two inches of water. Bring beans to a boil and take off heat. Cover and let sit off heat for one hour.
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, cook the bacon over moderate heat, stirring, until browned and crisp, about 7 minutes. Drain the bacon bits on paper towels. Pour the bacon drippings into a small bowl and wipe out the pan.
Return 2 tablespoons of the drippings to the pan and heat over medium heat.
Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, bay leaf and ½ teaspoon of the thyme and all of the rosemary, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the drained beans and stock and bring to a boil. Simmer the soup over moderately low heat until the beans are tender, about 1 ½ hours.
Discard the bay leaf and stir in the remaining thyme. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Garnish the soup with the bacon bits and serve.
MAKE AHEAD The soup and bacon can be refrigerated separately for up to 3 days. Recrisp the bacon before serving.