Modern versions of this ancient food of the fields dish deviate from the traditional habit of using the variations of common bean with the usual field vegetables, mountain herbs and wild plants.
These include butter beans, chickpeas, green beans, haricots, peas and soya beans in elaborate combinations. This was evident a few years ago when Slow Food Campania produced a booklet to accompany their ‘Leguminosa’ fairs. It featured the range of beans, native and foreign, grown the length and breadth of the peninsula, and a few others besides on neighbouring countries.
There have been some suggestions that the all-dancing, all-singing modern version of this iconic dish is a marketing device, a contemporary construct to promote beans and lentils.
Historically bean and vegetable soups came in three categories:-
beans ... with barley, bread, pasta or rice and a base of regional vegetables;
beans ... with indigenous herbs, field and wild vegetables;
beans ... with a vegetable base flavoured with a ham bone and some scraps of meat.
It was a thick and hearty dish associated with the poor, who needed the beans for protein. And that is where it is now, a soup that is seen as a healthy meal in summer and winter, a non-meat dish with fabulous flavours. The vegetables are now as prominent as the beans!
Described as an elaborate affair because of the amount of ingredients and the various processes, the finished dish is worth the effort and time. The secret is a good stock and a good battuto, a mixture of cubed vegetables – usually carrot, celery and onion – fried in olive oil, usually enhanced with basil and parsley. Some cooks take this step a little further to produce a base flavour made from leeks reduced in olive oil, then add the battuto ingredients. Clever cooks also cook the pasta seperately to prevent a build up of starch in the soup. Then there are the vegetables. In some regions wild plants are coveted, wild fennel more than any other because of the depth of flavour it adds to the soup. Every type of vegetable is featured, with chard, chicory, courgette, pea and turnip tops still popular. All the herbs of the garden and mountain find their way into this soup, rosemary, sage and thyme and parsley in particular.
- 3 litres water
- 600 g celeriac, coarse chopped
- 300 g carrots, coarse chopped
- 300 g red onions, quartered
- 100 g green leek, sliced
- 3 garlic cloves
- 15 g boullion / dried vegetables
- 1 cassia stick / cinnamon stick
- 1 tbsp dried marjoram
- 5 parsley sprigs
- 5 sage leaves
Simmer everything in a large pot for at least four hours, strain liquid into a new pot and keep warm.
- 2.5 litres stock, hot
- 500 g tomato passata (optional)
- 400 g borlotti beans / cannellini beans / haricot beans
- 300 g courgettes, sliced
- 300 g bulb fennel, sliced
- 300 g green beans, coarse cut
- 250 g carrots, cubed small
- 250 g orecchiette pasta
- 250 g chard / spinach, cut into strips (if small, left whole)
- 200 g white leek, sliced
- 150 g celery, cubed small
- 150 g onions, cubed small
- 150 g peas (fresh or frozen)
- 150 g potatoes, cubed small
- 45 ml olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves (optional)
- 15 ml brandy / rum / white wine (optional)
- 15 g mixed peppercorns, coarse ground
- 5 g marjoram leaves
- 5 g peperoncini / chilli flakes
- 5 g sage leaves
- 1 thyme sprig
- 100 g spring onions, sliced thin
- 60 g radishes, sliced thin
- 30 g anchovies (optional)
- 30 g capers, chopped (optional)
Sweat the leeks in olive oil for 30 minutes until they are soft and reduced considerably in size, add carrots, celery and onions and whole garlic, season with peppercorns and chilli flakes, sauté for 15 minutes. Remove garlic cloves.
Reheat the stock and bring to a low boil.
Deglaze the battuto pot with some of the stock, transfer its contents to the stock pot, add beans, marjoram, sage and thyme, cook until the beans are al dente.
Add potatoes, cook for 15 minutes.
Cook the pasta.
Add the green beans and, if using, the passata.
When the pasta is ready, add it to the pot, then add the courgette slices, chard or spinach, fennel, peas and choice of alcohol.
Serve radishes and spring onions as a garnish and, if using, mash the anchovies and capers into a coarse paste, stir into the soup in the bowls.