Friday, May 29, 2009

Late Spring Meal: White Bean Soup and Homemade Croutons

Julia Child always said you should never apologize. I think she meant for the state of your home or the dinner you're serving, not if, say, you rear-ended another motorist. But I'm guessing it also applies to not updating a blog for, oh, almost three months. So I'll just move on.

Something comes over me when I go to Costco. Suddenly I'm stocking up a fallout shelter and really need two dozen kiwi. Last week I bought two huge loaves of multigrain La Brea Bakery bread. Then we went out of town. Consequently, even with me and Phil doing our best to gnaw our way through the enormous bag, I still found myself staring at one and a half drying loaves last night. Not in the mood for bread pudding, which I always associate with winter, I made croutons.

Homemade Croutons

They're easy. Just preheat the oven to 400 degrees, cut the bread into one-inch or so cubes, lay them on a rimmed cookie sheet, drizzle them lightly with olive oil, and stir around a bit to get them a teensy bit coated. Pop them in the oven for 10 minutes, stir around a bit more, and bake them for another 5 to 15 minutes, checking every 5 minutes. Once they're golden, they're ready. If you have a cheap and temperamental oven like mine, some might end up black while others are barely browned. Just chuck the black ones; no one deserves to eat burned croutons.

White Bean Soup

Staring at the Ziploc bag of croutons this morning, I decided to make a soothing white bean soup to go with. While I love stirring bean soup contemplatively, it's a workday, so I enlisted the help of my slow cooker. The recipe basically comes from The Barefoot Contessa, still one of my all-time favorite cookbooks.

Medium chop 2 or 3 yellow onions -- it's going to make 3 or 4 cups of chopped onion. In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat up a few good glugs of olive oil -- 3 or 4 tablespoons. Dump in the onions and let them cook until they're a little wilty and translucent. Now add in a couple minced cloves of garlic. Let that continue simmering for a few minutes. Pour everything into a slow cooker and add 1 quart of chicken stock, 2 cups of rinsed white beans (I never soak them), a bay leaf, and a nice branch of fresh rosemary. Set it to low and go to work.

When I come home tonight, I'll strip the rosemary leaves from the branch, throw away the branch, and then puree the soup using an immersion blender. You can add some salt and pepper to taste here.

In a shallow bowl topped with a couple drops of olive oil, maybe a little bit of fresh minced rosemary, and a small handful of croutons, this soup's going to make one nice dinner after a crazy-hectic week.

I love this soup. It's so much more than the sum of its parts. I used to make lots of bean soups when I was following that crazy Susan Powter's low-fat plan in the early 90s. The soups were functional and cheap, but not delicious. As with everything, I find that bean soups really need some fat to make them not taste like something out of Oliver Twist.

Meanwhile, if anyone has any ideas for the bowlful of limes I bought last week, I'm all ears.

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