What makes soup good? I'm sure it differs for everyone, but I have some high soup standards. It should be warming, comforting, and tasty. Good soups have layers of flavor and texture. It can be hard to get that done quickly. This Italian bean soup recipe manages to layer the flavor without taking hours of simmering.
I based it on a Giada De Laurentiis recipe for pasta e fagioli. It's a great lunchtime soup, terrific with a slice of warm bread and a salad. My kids like to dip, so the bread is a must around here, and Costco carries a great natural frozen french bread that can be in and out of the oven in the time it takes to make a pot of this pasta e fagioli.
Here's what you do. Chop up an onion and 2-3 cloves of garlic, then chop about 5-6 strips of bacon.
Melt a tablespoon each of olive oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat. Toss in the bacon, onion, and garlic.
While that's sauteing, open up 2 cans of kidney beans. Drain and rinse the beans. Have 6 cups of chicken broth ready to go.
Grab some rosemary, thyme, and a couple of bay leaves. Fresh is best, I used some from my freezer, since there's still 3 inches of snow outside, and dried is fine.
The bacon onion mixture should be tender and starting to golden up. Add the stock, beans, and herbs to the pot. Put a lid on it, turn it up to high heat, and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Measure out a cup of small shaped pasta, like elbow macaroni.
After the 10 minutes have passed, turn off the heat. Pull out the bay leaves and any herb stems that are intact.
Blend part of the soup. You can either scoop out some of the soup and put it in a blender or food processor (Careful with hot liquids! Let it cool a bit first!), or just do what I do and take an immersion blender for a quick spin in the pot. I'm not usually the one to sell you on going out and buying kitchen appliances, but I will say that I love my immersion blender. It's great for applesauce, purees, and soups, among other delicious things.
Return the blended soup to the pot, if you took it out. Bring the soup back to a boil, then add in the pasta. Cover and simmer for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
If you're making this soup ahead for some reason, I would stop before you put in the pasta. Once you cook the pasta, keeping it too long makes for a mush pot.
Season the soup with fresh ground black pepper. With the bacon and the chicken stock, it usually doesn't need any salt. Ladle it into bowls, shred some fresh Parmesan on top, and give it a drizzle of olive oil. Dig in and enjoy the soupy goodness.
I'll be honest, this isn't really one of those soups that gets better with time. It's not great as a leftover. Fortunately, it's good enough the first time around that I've never really had leftovers to save from it.
Fun tip that I learned from another foodie a while back that I will pass on to you: If you're ever at a restaurant and have a mediocre soup, a lot of times it's simply lacking seasoning and fat. You need both for a good balanced soup. Most places that serve soup will have salt and butter (real butter, please, not "buttery spread"), so add those in to your taste, and it can really help! I've done this countless times, and while some soups are beyond saving, I'd say this works about 95% of the time.
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