If you have a rind left over from grating the Parmesan cheese, add it during the simmering stage of the soup. This or the rind of any other hard aged cheese lends a wonderful depth and base to the stock of any savoury bean or vegetable soup, and they can be refrigerated or frozen for later use.
This recipe is loosely adapted from Marlena de Blasi's A Taste of Southern Italy — a unique and attractive collection of authentic dishes that are unfortunately almost uniformly non-vegetarian. But there's nothing wrong with a vegetarian using a little imagination to transform a salt-pork soup like de Blasi's original into a meatless delight.
Italian Onion and Bean Soup with Parmesan ToastOther Italian-style soups you may enjoy:
(Minestra di Cipolle e Fagioli in Crosta)
1/2 cup cannellini (white kidney) beans
4 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1 dried whole red chili
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. Vidalia or sweet onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
1/2 tablespoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon brown sugar
2 1/2 cups reserved bean cooking liquid
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup fresh arugula leaves, torn or shredded
4 1/2-inch slices of crusty bread
1 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
olive oil for drizzling
fresh ground black pepper
Rinse the beans and soak overnight covered in several inches of cold water with a little yogurt whey or lemon juice added. Drain and add to a medium saucepan. Cover with the vegetable stock, bay leaf and dried red chili. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low, cover, and let simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the beans are soft. Discard the chili. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid and bay leaf, and set aside.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large cast-iron skillet or stove-top safe casserole. When hot, add the onions and garlic and toss until the onions are translucent, about five minutes. Turn down the heat a little and sprinkle on the sea salt and brown sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are golden-brown and slightly caramelized, about half an hour.
Pour in the white wine and 2 1/2 cups of the reserved cooking liquid from the beans. Add the bay leaf, and bring to a simmer. If you have a Parmesan rind, add this to the soup as well. Cook for 20 minutes. Now add the beans and red wine, and simmer gently for five more minutes. Remove from heat and discard the bay leaf and Parmesan rind if using.
Pre-heat the oven broiler. Toss the arugula leaves into the soup. Lay slices of bread over the soup, sprinkle the bread with Parmesan cheese, and drizzle olive oil over the bread and cheese. Generously dust the bread and soup with plenty of fresh ground black pepper.
Place the skillet or casserole under the broiler to toast the bread and melt the cheese. Carry hot to the table and ladle soup and bread into warm bowls. Serves two to four.
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