Soothing Bean, Potato and Fennel Soup
The season of fog and high tide is back in the lagoon. Nebbia and acqua alta, two climatic events that -for me- mark the beginning of winter. Yes, I know, it's still autumn, at least for another three weeks... but yours truly is already suffering the cold and becoming meteoropathic. It's so wet lately that I am starting to believe that if Venice is a Fish, as Tiziano Scarpa once said, we Venetians must be amphibians. Right now Venice isn't only a city on water, it's a city in water! It's coming from the sky as rain, from the ground as acqua alta, and from the air as humidity drops so thick to challenge even the world's best hair straightener. The only consolation is that this sort of dampness helps maintain the skin young, moist and hydrated, or anyway this is what my grandmother has always stated.
In days like these, I tend to become even lazier than usual and once I return home, it becomes difficult for me to go out again. And please note that the word difficult here is actually a synonym of impossible... Food-wise, one of the dishes I turn to the most in this period, is definitely soup. I usually make a lot of stock in advance, separate it in plastic bags and store it in the freezer. I don't have a specific recipe for the stock, I just throw in a pot the veg I have (typically onions, carrots and celery), bring to a boil, add a pinch of salt and let cook for about one hour and a half. The times I don't have any ready-to-use stock at hand, I just do without. I never use stock cubes, as I find they spoil the good taste of real veg, and I advise you to do the same!
The recipe I'm sharing today is one of my favourites, very simple and easy to make, perfect also for vegetarians and vegans (as long as they don't top it with parmesan cheese...): a bean, fennel and potato soup served with crunchy crostini. Soothing and comforting.
I used borlotti beans from the small town of Lamon, in the province of Belluno. I took these pictures a couple of weeks ago, when the beans were still fresh, whereas this time I had to use dried beans, bought at the Rialto market from the corner stall in front of the Pescaria (the best in Rialto for herbs and legumes).
I've never been to Lamon, but beware that the product is a local delicacy and there is even a Consorzio di Tutela (Protection Cooperative) that guarantees the production methods are ecological and 100% natural and that the crop is fertilised using only 'mature' manure. In Venice, at the times of the Serenissima, borlotti would arrive in sacks via river and were called the 'meat of the poor'. Beans have always been greatly appreciated by us lagoon people and the proof of the pudding (although it would be more appropriate to call it the proof of the bean) is that, in in any osteria, two must-haves are the insalata di fagioli e cipolla condita con aceto (bean and onion salad, rigorously dressed with vinegar) and the iconic pasta e fagioli (bean and pasta soup), which in Venice is soupier and more liquid than in other towns. Delicious....
Anyway, going back to my soup, Vito and I both loved it. Mild and with a nice and fresh aftertaste due to the red onion, more aggressive than its white and golden sisters. Although I used chilli, my husband didn't find it sufficiently spicy (he likes really super-flavourful foods...) so I ground some black pepper, but it's definitely an optional ingredient.
With this said, I'll go back to my couch and say goodbye for now. Hope you will enjoy the soup, let me know!
BEAN SOUP WITH POTATOES AND FENNEL
Prep. Time: 5'
Cook Time: 40/45' Yield: 2
1/2 kg fresh borlotti beans*
2 small red potatoes
1 red onion
1 dried chilli
2 cloves of garlic
2 slices of bread
1 rosemary stick
extra virgin olive oil
*If you use dried beans, leave them soaking overnight and cook the soup for 50/60 minutes instead.
1) Shell the beans and keep aside.
2) Peel onion and potato, wash the fennel and chop the vegetable roughly.
3) Heat a pot with some oil, the crushed garlic cloves and the chopped chilli. Remove the garlic, add the rest of the greens, the beans, stir, cover with vegetable stock and bring to a boil.
4) When it's boiling, add sea salt, lower the heat and let simmer for about 40 minutes. Add stock if needed.
5) In the meantime, cut your slices of bread into small squares, put them on a sheet of parchment paper and sprinkle them with some salt, rosemary and olive oil and toast in the oven for a couple of minutes, until golden.
6) When ready, mix a little bit (but not entirely) with a hand-blender to add creaminess, top with hot crostini and serve. If you wish, grind some black pepper.