Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Neither my busy schedule nor the unusually brutal Southern California temperatures (it reached 107 degrees in Pasadena the weekend before last) have diminished my gusto for cooking and eating…just my gusto for writing and posting about it, apparently. But the heat wave’s broken, I have some free time (well, freer, anyway, with my hostessing and bridesmaid’s duties behind me), and I’m turning over a new leaf. Here’s one of the fresh, summery, mercifully simple recipes the weather compelled me to try last week. It’s from a little paperback book called Favourite Recipes From Books for Cooks 1, 2, and 3, which A’s mom gave me (signed by one of the authors) for Christmas. She bought it on a trip to England (Books for Cooks is a store in London). I think its non-glossiness and lack of photos put me off for a while, because this is the first thing I’ve attempted from it. (Luckily, I did not need to rely on my shoddy understanding of the metric system, as the measurements were thoughtfully given in both sets of units. I’ve reprinted them American-style.)

As usual for me when I embark upon a new recipe, by the time I started cooking I’d forgotten how delicious the food initially sounded to me and had turned suspicious. I don’t completely like beans, after all, and beans plus pasta sounded like a lot of starch, and 4 cups of broth per 1 can beans (yes, I used the canned; boiling beans for 1½ hours would have been unbearable in triple-digit heat) sounded like it would make a really runny soup. But it turned out great—a bit thinner than what I think of when I think of bean soup, but who wants a thick, hearty soup after you’ve broken a sweat just chopping tomatoes? My microwave got so warm it temporarily burned out while I was defrosting my homemade frozen chicken broth, but aside from that everything came together quickly and easily, and it tasted delicious—savory, a little spicy, refreshing (I served it warm, but not hot): perfect for a hot evening. The tomatoes really make this dish, so use good ones; I favor a mix of heirlooms.

4 ripe tomatoes, diced
¼ red onion, finely chopped
5 tablespoons olive oil
A handful of basil leaves, cut into strips
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 cups hot chicken or vegetable stock
4 ounces (2/3 cup) dry cannellini beans (or other white beans), soaked overnight and simmered until tender (1 to 1½ hours), or 1 can (14 to 15 ounces) cannellini (or other white) beans, drained
3 ounces (1/2 cup) dried mezzi tubetti, ditalini, or other small pasta
grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. For the salsa, mix the tomato, red onion, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1 tablespoon basil together in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

2. To make the soup, heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and the rest of the basil and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Pour in the stock, add the beans, bring to a boil, and simmer steadily for 15 minutes. Ladle out a cupful (or more) of the beans and their liquid, put into a food processor or blender, and puree until smooth. Stir back into the soup.

3. Add the pasta to the soup and simmer steadily until al dente. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Serve the soup hot or warm, topping each serving with a generous spoonful of the salsa. Finish with a swirl of olive oil and grated Parmesan, if you like.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes

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