I’ve been asked a lot lately what my favorite food to make is, and while it’s a close tie with many other dishes, soup may just barely take the lead. Nothing comforts me as much as a pot of soup, either simmering at the stove, slurped up from coffee mugs on the couch, or stacked up in containers in the fridge as upcoming lunches. I especially love how, try as I might, no one pot of soup is ever the same as the next. This could be because 75% of the time I don’t follow a recipe—my soups are often made from whatever I have on hand. But all summer I look forward to soup, and throughout the fall and winter I relish in making it. I was sad to realize, when I was walking around outside this morning with my coat unzipped, enjoying the warm-ish breeze, that my precious soup-making opportunities are starting to dwindle.
This one was borne out of the need to recalibrate. I just spent several days in Tahoe, on an annual trip with my Dad, brother, sister-in-law, 5-month-old niece, and a couple spunky dogs. Every year we meet up to celebrate my mom’s birthday—she passed away 5 and a half years ago—and the vacation is always one of reflection and indulgence. We have a lot of fun hanging out, skiing, eating, drinking a bottle of her favorite Chardonnay (among other cocktails), and playing Oh Hell, and this one was even more special because it was my niece’s first time joining us. Part of the tradition is that I make mom’s recipe for Beef Bourguignon, a recipe that readers of this blog might not be interested in, but it’s one of the times I eat meat. Making and sharing that dish with my family is far too meaningful a tradition for me to give up.
But as I said, after I got home I needed to recalibrate, so naturally I turned to soup. I wanted to make something hearty, that would provide me a few dinners for the next week, and I wanted it to be dense with all the good stuff, like beans, grains, and veggies, that I hadn’t been eating as much as I like to while on vacation: I wanted a pot of “Everything Soup.” I found a container of gem-like Cranberry beans in the cupboard, half a bag of farro, and a big can of tomatoes, so all I needed were some vegetables, which were easy enough to pick up.
The trick when combining beans and grains, or combining different types of beans, is to add them in order of cooking times, longest to shortest. Alternatively, you could cook the each element separately and then stir it in at the end, but with soup, I’m more the one-pot type. Plus, I like how the flavors merge and infuse the soup, and you don’t get that as much when everything doesn’t have the full simmering time to mingle. I find farro to be fairly forgiving, so it can simmer a little longer if your beans are taking more time to cook than anticipated. (I also find that soaking it for a bit, just as the beans are beginning to cook, can level off its cooking time.) And as for the tomatoes I usually use whole ones, which I crush against the side of the pot as the soup cooks—I like the rustic, ragged chunks—but chopped or crushed would work perfectly fine.
Vegetable Soup with Cranberry Beans, Farro, and Chard, or, “Everything Soup”
Serves 6 to 8
1-1/2 cup cranberry beans
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 celery stalks, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 bay leaves
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes (or diced or crushed, see above)
1 cup farro, rinsed (or pearled barley)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch chard, stalks removed, sliced thinly
1. Rinse the beans and pick through for debris. Place in a medium bowl and cover with at least 4 cups water. Let stand for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Alternatively, to quick soak the beans, place them in a soup pot or medium saucepan and cover generously with water. Bring the water to a boil, boil for 3 minutes, then cover, off the heat, and let stand for 1 hour. Drain the beans thoroughly before using.
2. Heat the oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the celery, carrot, onion, and bay leaves. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes, until just beginning to soften. Add the garlic and tomato paste, stirring to combine, and cook for 2 minutes, until fragrant and the tomato paste is beginning to caramelize. Add the drained beans, the entire contents of the can of tomatoes, and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil, then cover partially and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the beans are “al dente”: somewhat tender, but retaining a bit of crunch. As the beans cook, press the whole tomatoes against the side of the pot to break them up a bit.
3. Meanwhile, place the rinsed farro in a bowl and cover with water. Allow to soak for 30 to 40 minutes, as the rest of the soup is cooking.
4. Drain the farro and stir it in. Continue to cook for another 30 to 40 minutes, adding the salt after about 15 minutes, and simmer until the beans are tender and the farro is pleasantly chewy. Stir in the pepper and vinegar, then add the chard. Stir, pressing it down to submerge it into the soup, until completely wilted, 5 to 8 minutes. Taste for seasonings, then serve.