Now I’m Getting Souped Up

In San Francisco, any time is a good time for soup. Even warm days here often end with cool, soup-worthy nights. On one warm Friday afternoon, I enjoyed a margarita on our front steps and when the fog rolled in, I went inside and had a bowl of Tuscan ribollita.  In SF, summer and winter may be just a few hours apart.

As well as good soup weather, we also have lots of good soup fixings. At the farmers market, I’ve been buying thick, gelatinous chicken broth from Marin Sun Farms or Mountain Ranch. This stock is completely different from the boxes of broth I used to rely on. You have to scoop this stuff out with a spoon; it doesn’t ‘pour’. It’d be icky if it wasn’t so delicious.

We also have shelling beans available this time of year. Dirty Girl sells fresh cannellinis or cranberry beans (borlotti beans). Shelling beans are delicious cooked up on their own and doused with olive oil. They’re also a lovely foil for Fatted Calf’s tonno di maiale. But I especially like using shelling beans for soup because they cook up so quickly.

This not to say that dried beans are to be avoided. Dried beans have inspired most of the soups I’ve been eating lately. Heirloom Beans, the cookbook by Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo, is to thank for the ribollita, the minestone, and the white bean and chard soup with a poached egg and crispy bits of stale bread.

Stale bread is now something I consider an essential soup ingredient, and it’s an easy way to use up the last, somewhat stale bits of Tartine’s country bread. A slab of buttered bread will always be a delicious accompaniment to a bowl of soup, but a chunk of stale bread at the bottom of your soup bowl, broth-sodden and disintegrating, offers something else entirely. It adds body and texture, and if you rub it first with garlic, it adds flavor, too.

One of my go-to soups and a soup that first got me hooked on this delicious stale bread trick is Mark Bittman’s white bean and escarole soup. It’s a dead-simple recipe that I keep coming back to — something about the base of anchovies, garlic and chiles really elevates it. I’ve edited the recipe and listed it below because his list of ingredients includes items like duck or port that are never mentioned in the cooking instructions.

Escarole, White Bean Soup

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sliced garlic
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 anchovy fillets, or to taste (Bittman says this is optional. It’s not. It’s essential.)
  • 1 fresh or dried chili, stemmed, seeded and minced, or 1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound escarole
  • 3 cups chicken stock or water
  • 1 cup (or more) white beans, such as cannellini
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Put half the oil, half the garlic, anchovies and chilies in a pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally until garlic begins to color.

Add escarole and stir; add beans and stock or water and adjust heat so mixture simmers steadily. Cover and cook about 15 minutes.

Stir in rest of garlic and cook another minute. Drizzle with reserved olive oil, and serve over slices of stale bread, rubbed with garlic or showered with parmesan cheese. (Bittman includes the bread as a “variation”. Pay no attention to Bittman. The bread is a crucial element of the soup).

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