Soups are one of my favorite things to make and bean soups are a staple in my house. I love to throw a lot of vegetables in the pot. Adding beans makes the soup a hearty, complete meal
Tall cypresses and lavender bushes framed the weathered stone walls and the massive wooden front door of the Tuscan villa. Perched atop a hill, the panoramic views of the surrounding countryside were spectacular. And in the distance, on another hill, was the jagged skyline of San Gimignano.
Alan and I, his brother Larry and sister-in-law Ingrid had rented this house that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair vacationed in every summer. (There were even holiday photos of Tony and Cherie in the front hallway).
The old house was exactly as you would imagine — high ceilings with thick wooden beams and tiled floors, heavy antique furniture and walls covered in Catholic iconography.
On our first morning we drove to San Gimignano. We ventured behind the massive stone walls that were built to fortify and protect the city and we stepped back in time to 14th century Italy. A powerful banking center, San Gimignano once boasted 72 tall towers, an expression of wealth and power. Then the Black Plague arrived and half the population was decimated. The remaining residents abandoned the city for the countryside. Soon the region was dominated by the city of Florence. The powerful Medici family were patrons of renaissance art and architecture, rendering the gothic architecture of San Gimignano passé. Today this perfectly preserved medieval town is a jewel of the Tuscan landscape.
We climbed to the top of one of the 14 surviving towers and saw the astonishing view. We stood in the Piazza della Cisterna and saw the cistern that provided water for the pilgrims on their way to Rome.
Then Alan and Larry thought it would be a fabulous idea to visit the Museo della Tortura, which displays the gruesome torture devices used during the Middle Ages, mostly by the Inquisition. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have read the historical novel “The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon” on the plane ride over. It’s about the Jews in Portugal trying to escape the Inquisition, so my imagination was running wild.
Then we stopped at a charming little outdoor cafe in a cobblestone alley and indulged in the most delicious cioccolata calda con pane. It’s a drink made of melted chocolate, sugar and hot milk served with a side of the thickest, whitest, natural cream. We’re not really sure if it’s a drink or a dessert. But we know for certain that it’s heaven in a cup.
It was time to think about dinner, so we shopped at an Italian market. The wonders are hard to describe — the many cheeses and yogurts, the breads and pastry and the beautiful fresh produce. We bought dried anchovies and sardines and lots of olives. We bought fresh basil and broccolini, dried sage and oregano. And lots of olive oil and pasta and chocolate, of course.
We drove back to that incredible villa and prepared a perfect Italian meal.
The memory of those wonderful flavors still lingers after two decades. Recently, a friend sent me dried bay leaf and oregano from her garden. These are the quintessential flavors of Tuscan cuisine, so I was inspired to make a big pot of Tuscan White Bean Soup.
My mother and grandmother both made Lubiah Soup, white beans, onion and garlic in a tomato broth. But this Tuscan soup recipe takes it to the next level.
My mother and grandmother both made Lubiah Soup, white beans, onion and garlic in a tomato broth. But this Tuscan soup recipe takes it to the next level. The list of ingredients makes my heart sing — onion, garlic, celery, carrots, parsnip, diced tomatoes, bay leaf and oregano, broccolini and kale. Not to mention cannellini beans.
My big pot of soup was a huge hit with my guests and family. And on Saturday morning, my daughter Alexandra ate the very last bowl, cold!
Soups are one of my favorite things to make and bean soups are a staple in my house. I love to throw a lot of vegetables in the pot. Adding beans makes the soup a hearty, complete meal. This recipe has cannellini beans but any white bean will work.
Make sure you take a little time to sauté the onions in olive oil, and to soften the celery, the carrots and the parsnip, so that they release their flavor. But add the kale and broccolini at the last minute so they stay an attractive bright green.
We hope you have this incredibly healthy soup simmering in your pot soon.
Tuscan Bean Soup
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 parsnip, sliced
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons fresh oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable broth
1 15 oz can organic diced tomatoes
2 15 oz cans white cannellini beans
10 oz organic broccolini, cut in half
2 cups organic kale, stems removed
- Warm olive oil in a heavy stock pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes until translucent.
- Add the celery, garlic and salt and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add the carrots and allow to soften, about 5 minutes.
- Add the parsnip, bay leaf, oregano and black pepper and sauté.
- Pour in the vegetable broth, stir well and bring to a boil.
- Add the diced tomatoes and the cannellini beans, cover pot and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
- About 10 minutes before serving, add the broccolini and kale.
Rachel Sheff and Sharon Gomperts have been friends since high school. They love cooking and sharing recipes. They have collaborated on Sephardic Educational Center projects and community cooking classes. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food.