You'll notice that this white bean soup is not white. That's because I made it with Rancho Gordo Yellow Eye beans, which are mostly white but have tan spots. They are also quite delicious, and I actually prefer the golden hue they impart, even if it doesn't photograph terribly appetizingly.
I am so proud of myself for trying this and loving it, considering I don’t completely love beans. It’s a texture thing—they need to be as mashed-up as possible for me to accept them, and so far in my cooking career I’ve only reconciled myself with black beans (plus garbanzo beans, but only in the form of hummus). But when I saw this in an old magazine someone brought in to work (Bon Appetit, I think), it sounded so savory and comforting, full of ingredients I enjoy, a healthy and hearty winter meal...also, let’s face it, the word “creamy” gets me every time. Making it was a bit of a challenge—very simple, but working with dried beans, you have to be organized and start a few days in advance. On Monday morning before leaving for work, I set the beans out to soak. On Monday night, I cooked the beans (Step 2 of the recipe) and also made chicken broth. (Wow, did that make the apartment steamy-warm and delicious-smelling.) On Tuesday night, I made the actual soup. But you know what? It was worth it. It was awesome, exactly how I’d hoped it would be. Hooray for beans (or at least those properly pureed)!
A few notes: I used the Italian sausage. I didn’t buy any whipping cream, thinking I’d be healthy and just use milk instead, but the soup ended up creamy enough on its own, and just the perfect thickness already, so I didn’t want or need to add any more liquid. Thus, I’ve labeled the cream optional.
Postscript from April 2009: This time I used my new favorite sausage, Trader Joe's chicken andouille, a smoked, spicy, Cajun-style sausage (it has a firmer, more kielbasa-like texture, so I cut it into cubes instead of removing the casing and crumbling it). It was vastly superior to the Italian sausage I'd used before. If you can't find chorizo, I really recommend a good andouille--the spice and smokiness are wonderful with the beans, sort of like a really high-quality grown-up version of franks 'n' beans.
1 pound dried cannellini or Great Northern Beans (a generous 2 cups)
8 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves: 1 smashed, 2 chopped
1 large fresh rosemary sprig
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 large celery stalk, coarsely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
2 and 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme, divided
4 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 pound fresh chorizo or spicy Italian link sausages, casings removed
1/4 cup whipping cream or milk (optional)
1. Place beans in a large, heavy pot. Add enough water to pan to cover beans by 4 inches. Let beans soak overnight, covered, at room temperature.
2. Drain and rinse beans; return to same pot. Add 8 cups water, 1 tablespoon oil, smashed garlic clove, rosemary, and bay leaf. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and simmer until beans are tender, 60–90 minutes. Season to taste with salt. (Can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Cool slightly, cover, and chill.)
3. Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid. Discard rosemary sprig and bay leaf.
4. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute until vegetables are beginning to soften, about 10 minutes. Add chopped garlic and 1 teaspoon thyme; sauté 2 minutes. Add 2 cups reserved bean cooking liquid, 4 cups chicken broth, and beans. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes. Cool soup 10 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, sauté chorizo or Italian sausage in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking up lumps with back of spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove sausage from pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels to drain.
6. Using a slotted spoon, remove 1 and 1/2 cups bean mixture from soup and reserve. Working in batches, puree remaining soup in a blender until smooth. Return pureed soup to pot and stir in reserved whole-bean mixture, remaining 1 and 1/2 teaspoons thyme, sausage, and cream or milk if desired. Season with salt and pepper.
Time: 1 hour, plus 1 day and 90 minute prep