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Hearty White Bean and Winter Squash Soup with Sage-Breadcrumbs

January 09, 2012 | Tags: Deborah Madison , Food , Vegetables | Post comment

Hearty White Bean and Winter Squash Soup with Sage-Breadcrumbs

January is a time of new beginnings and intentions, especially in the realm of food. Nourishing warm foods that are filling but not heavy are what we look for and few food fill the bill as well as soups do.  This is a thick, winter minestrone based on beans and vegetables. I finish it with sage infused breadcrumbs or ½ cup cracked wheat, added during the last 15 minutes. The liquid will diminish as the grains absorb it and the soup will become very thick over time. If you don’t like it that way, thin it out with extra broth or water.

I alternate between using small white navy beans and vegetables cut into a fine dice to compliment their size, or the larger cannellini beans and larger chunks of vegetables.  Such small differences affect the final feel of the dish —one is delicate, the other more stew-like.  In either case, squash, cabbage and turnips are all sweet vegetables, so the sage and garlic infused breadcrumbs, added hot to the soup so that they sizzle, are not just a garnish, but an ingredient that puts the things into balance.  Should you choose to use canned beans, you might look for some of the more unusual bean varieties, such as Soldier Beans. You’ll need at least 2 cans for this amount of soup.

Ingredients

The beans
1 cup white beans, navy or cannellini, covered with boiling water and soaked for at least an hour (or 2 cans of beans)
3 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 onion, peeled and halved and studded with 2 cloves
Aromatics: 1 bay leaf, several sage leaves, a sprig of thyme, 4 parsley branches
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt

The vegetables
2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for serving
1 pound, more or less, butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, flesh diced
1 large onion, diced
3 to 4 small turnips, about 12 ounces, thickly peeled and cut into chunks
1 tablespoon chopped sage or 1 ½ teaspoons dried
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 plump garlic clove, chopped
Aromatics: 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, pinch of dried thyme, 2 bay leaves
1/2 pound Savoy cabbage, chopped into squares

To finish
1 1/2 cups fresh whole wheat bread crumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped sage or half as much dried
OR, ½ cup cracked wheat

Preparation

Drain the soaked beans, and put them in a pot with 10 cups water, the garlic, aromatics and olive oil.  Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for an hour.  Add 1 teaspoon salt continue cooking until the beans are tender, another half hour or so —cooking times vary according to altitude, age of beans, hardness of water. Drain the beans leaving them in just enough liquid so that they don’t dry out, straining and reserving the cooking water.  You should have about 6 to 7 cups of bean broth.

Warm the oil in a soup pot.  Add the onion, pumpkin, turnips, sage, parsley, and 1-teaspoon salt.  Give a stir then cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the vegetables have started to brown a bit here and there, about 15 minutes.  Add the cabbage and let it wilt, then add the reserved bean broth or equivalent amount of vegetable or chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer partially covered until the pumpkin is tender but still intact, 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size. Add the beans and continue cooking until heated through.  Taste for salt and season with pepper.

Note: If using canned beans, rinse well and use vegetable or chicken stock instead of the bean broth.

Toss the breadcrumbs with the oil and sage to moisten them, then put them skillet and cook slowly over medium heat until crisp and golden, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.  Serve the soup and add a generous helping of the hot crumbs to each bowl.

If you decide to add cracked wheat to the soup, do so in the final 15 minutes of cooking, then drizzle a few drops of olive oil into each bowl just before serving. Add pepper and chopped parsley and enjoy.

Makes about 2 quarts