Sunday, November 17, 2019

Third Time’s the Charm

What’s cooking? Three-Bean Soup with Lemony Dill Pesto

My brain is as good as it ever was – it just doesn’t offer same-day service. That’s a line I heard not long ago that resonated with me as I put together this post.

So... a year and a half ago, I was food shopping and spotted a pile of what the grocery store called Romano beans. I love hanging out in the produce aisles, and, while the beans looked vaguely familiar, I’d never heard of the name “Romano beans.” So I bought some, then looked around the internet for an interesting recipe using this “new” veggie. I found a nice soup, tested the recipe – and loved it. Made it again and took lots of photos. Then because of the time of year – like right now – I got caught up in the whirl of Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas activities and never posted it.

Last week, as I shopped, I once again came across a bin of these Romano beans, and remembered that lovely recipe. I remembered cooking the soup, so figured it must be on the blog somewhere. But no. Back at my desk, I rummaged around looking for the photos and found... not one, but two files of photos for this same recipe. And the second file I found was dated six months before the one I thought was the first file. Which means I’ve now come across Romano beans three times in the same grocery store and have three times determined to write about them. I’m reminded of another line that circulated recently among my friends: “I haven’t lost my mind – half of it just wandered off, and the other half went looking for it.”

The good news is that I’m finally passing on this truly marvelous soup. I made it last night, but the process was lots faster and easier because I just had to take notes – no photos!

Before I start telling you about Romano beans, I should say that if you can't find them, the recipe will work just as well with your basic string beans. And now, about the Romano beans. Here’s a photo of the ones I brought home just this week. Impressive size, yes? According to wikipedia, they’re also called “snap beans,” and are in the family of “common beans” – sort of the teenagers of the bean family, in that they’ve been harvested before the seed development phase, so the pods are tender enough to eat. Other youngsters in the family are your standard string beans and French green beans (a.k.a., haricots verts). Romanos look a lot like overdeveloped snow peas, but snow peas are..., well, part of the pea family. (In the same way that string beans and snap beans are the youth of the bean family, snow peas and sugar snap peas are the youth of the pea family.) And this is the end of my research into beans.

Because I hadn’t done this research in my previous dealings with this soup, I didn’t realize why the beans seemed vaguely familiar. But as I chopped the Romanos for my mise en place yesterday, I decided – for the first time – to try a taste of the raw bean. Like emerging from a time machine, I remembered that flavor from Saturday afternoons at my grandmother’s house, when we’d sit out on her screened porch and “snap” these beans into small enough pieces to be cooked the next day for Sunday lunch. She called them “snap beans,” and I never made the connection. The notoriously strong olfactory memory – stronger even than visual memory – carried me back to that screened porch through a single bite of the raw pod.

Three-Bean Soup with Dill Pesto

Adapted from Molly Baz at (April 2018)

What an amazing soup this is: low-fat, high-veggie, and soooo savory. Especially the garlic pieces, which cook into these magical mounds of mild and sweet softness. The most time-consuming part of this recipe is the chopping. Even so, the Kitchen Goddess – who is notorious for careful, precise chopping and therefore takes way more time than most – managed the entire process, including the pesto, here in 2 hours. Speaking of the pesto, I’d say it’s a very good soup without the pesto, but why stop short when the view is so good from the top?

Kitchen Goddess note about the beans: Once again, if you can’t find Romano beans, basic string beans will work just as well.

Serves 8

2 medium leeks, dark green parts of the stalks removed and discarded
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and separated
3 slices bacon, cut in ½-inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 small fennel bulbs, chopped in ½-inch dice, fronds reserved for pesto
1 celery stalk, chopped in ½-inch dice (about ⅓-½ cup)
3 sprigs of fresh thyme (or a rounded teaspoon of dried thyme)
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon kosher salt
6 cups well-flavored chicken or vegetable broth
2 ½ cups frozen lima beans (or ¾ cup large, dried lima beans, soaked overnight)
1½ teaspoons Aleppo pepper (or ¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes)
8 ounces Romano beans/snap beans, cut into 1" pieces
8 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed, cut crosswise (small ones in half; large ones in thirds)
¼ cup crème fraîche, sour cream, or light sour cream
4 teaspoons lemon juice (from the lemon used in the pesto; see recipe below)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
thick shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano
Lemony Dill Pesto (see recipe below)

For the mise en place*, quarter the leeks lengthwise, then cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces. Rinse the leeks in a fine-mesh strainer and pat dry with paper towels. Using the flat side of a chef’s knife, smash the garlic cloves. Set aside 1 large or 2 small cloves for the pesto.

Cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium heat for 8-9 minutes, until starting to crisp.

Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and all but the reserved clove(s) of the smashed garlic and cook, stirring often, for about 4 minutes, until the garlic is just beginning to turn golden.

Add the leeks, fennel, celery, thyme, bay leaf, and 1 tablespoon of salt. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are beginning to soften, about 4 minutes.

Add the lima beans, Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes), and the broth. Bring the soup to a simmer, then partially cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and gently simmer until the beans are al dente but not quite creamy, 20-25 minutes.

Add the Romano beans and the snap peas. Return the soup to a simmer and continue to cook about 15 minutes more, until the limas are creamy and the other beans are just cooked through.

While the soup is in this final 15-minute phase, make the pesto. (See below.)

Remove the soup from the heat and stir in crème fraîche/sour cream, black pepper, and 4 teaspoons of lemon juice. Stir well then taste and adjust the seasoning.

Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle with pesto, then top with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve with crusty toast and the remaining pesto alongside.

*I have harped on this before. Mise en place is French for “Get your shit together.” If you have the veggies and seasoning all chopped and measured and ready for the pot, you will not be cursing at yourself when you have to take the pot off the burner and let it cool down while you finish cutting up the damned fennel. Trust the Kitchen Goddess. Once you have your mise en place, you will dance through the recipe process like Fred Astaire. You might even have time for a glass of wine while you cook.

Lemony Dill Pesto

The bright flavors in this pesto offer the perfect finish to the creamy bean soup. The original recipe had no nuts in the pesto, but I thought it needed a little body. Here’s what it looked like without the nuts. It still tastes delicious, but... well, the KG likes the thicker texture of pesto with nuts. You should make it however you like.

Yield: 1½ cups

Fronds from 2 small fennel bulbs (can include some of the daintier stems)
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic (reserved from mise en place for the soup)
Small bunch dill, including thinner stems
1 cup pecans (or walnuts or pignoli nuts)
zest of 1 lemon, plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice
¾ teaspoon kosher salt

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the fennel fronds with the reserved garlic, the dill, the lemon zest, and the pecans, until the mixture is well chopped and crumbly. With the motor running, slowly stream in ½ cup oil. Stop the motor to scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the ¾ teaspoon of salt and the 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Process the pesto until well combined and relatively smooth. Transfer the pesto to a small bowl and set aside.

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