So this past weekend was filled with indulgences. A little too much drinking and a little too much eating. For some reason on Friday after our salmon with couscous and braised fennel dinner, Annie and I proceeded to drink two bottles of champagne which resulted in nursing our hangovers over bacon cheeseburgers and fries at Fatburger on Saturday. Sunday I attempted to lighten things up with my spiced tomatoes and prawns but then later I went out with Mark to a nearby bar and drank a few too many Rolling Rocks. And then Monday began with brunch at Breadbar (so so much bread), included a late afternoon snack of crispy beef tacos and chips at Tito's Taco's, and then concluded with several glasses of wine, yet more bread, this time dipped in garlic and rosemary infused olive oil and a big meaty stuffed pork chop at a local Italian restaurant.
So come Tuesday I decided something healthy was in order. I hit the gym and considered what to make for dinner that would be good for me. I looked through my Whole Foods cookbook and found a white bean and swiss chard soup that sounded nice, light. I love beans and the greens were clearly just what I needed.
Upon closer inspection of the recipe, it seemed like it might be a little...i don't know. barren? clean? potentially devoid of flavor? Why, there was practically no oil in it at all. I looked on epicurious and found a variation on the same thing but this one included pancetta, fennel, and the rind of a wedge of parmesan cheese. Here I go again. Meat and cheese.
1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy (2 cups), picked over and rinsed
1/4 lb sliced pancetta, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb (sometimes called anise), stalks discarded and bulb chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups water
1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 lb Swiss chard (preferably red or rainbow), stems discarded and leaves halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise
Okay, so normally I would use canned cannellini beans, but for some reason I decided to go ahead and do the whole dried bean thing. I was not willing to let them soak over night so I did the quick soak method recommended by the recipe. It goes like this: Cover beans with cold water by 2 inches in a 5- to 6-quart pot and bring to a boil, uncovered. Boil beans, uncovered, 2 minutes, then remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour.
When the beans are done, cook thepancetta in oil in a wide 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer pancetta with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
Next, cook the onion and fennel in oil remaining in pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, stock, water, cheese rind, bay leaf, rosemary, red pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, until beans are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Discard cheese rind and bay leaf.
At this point I was getting a more than a little hungry. The recipe noted that this was one of those soups that is better the next day, so I decided to just wait. I ended up having potato chips and dip for dinner. I had already washed and cut the swiss chard, so I sort of just stirred it into the soup once it cooled and then put it in the refrigerator. I also added the pancetta back in although you might consider reserving some to use as a garnish. The next day as dinner time approached, I continued with my little soup mission. I noticed that some of the liquid had cooked off and there was not enough to cover the chard, so I ended up adding 2 more cups of chicken stock.
Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until chard is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Season soup with salt (this soup will need a lot of salt) and pepper. Ladle into bowls, give it a couple turns of the pepper mill, shave some fresh parmesan cheese over the top and then drizzle in a little extra virgin olive oil. I know that every other soup recipe says to serve a piping hot bowl with some crusty bread, but seriously do it with this one. I served mine with thick slices of rosemary baguette, brushed with olive oil that I grilled in my cast iron grill pan until crunchy.
After I made this soup I realized that I already had a white bean and swiss chard recipe on this site and had totally forgotten about it. The recipes are slightly different (the other one has rice, chicken and tomatoes in it, among other things) but I prefer this one. I think really good recipes are all about contrasting flavors and textures and this one seems to be a great example of that: the buttery beans nestled in with the wilted greens. The crisp bread softening in the smoky pancetta flavored broth. The salty parmesan cheese mixing in the with the peppery olive oil. And I hate to say it, but using dried, rather than canned beans really makes a difference. They maintained some body and didn't get mushy.
Although I had indended to make a healthy, virtuous soup that I could feel no guilt about eating, this one was rather satisfying.