RECIPE: Italian White Bean and Greens Soup

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The beans, kale, and vegetables in this soup means you are loading up on calcium, iron, protein, fiber, and Vitamins K, A, C, and E, among other nutrients. Kale is the healthiest vegetable you can add, and beans are extra good for your body — and considered one of the top sustainable foods. Using parmesan rinds rather than a chicken- or meat-based stock in this soup is one of the flavoring secrets to plant-based soups — the rinds add subtle but pure umami. (See the note below for tips on using parmesan rinds.) Any type of kale works, but the Italian bumpy kales just melt into tenderness in a soup. To vary, add cooked pasta or a grain like barley or farro. Serves 6.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, diced 

1 whole leek, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, rinsed and sliced crosswise

2–3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

4 carrots, peeled and sliced into half rounds

3 celery stalks, diced

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary or thyme, or 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary or thyme (both is better and fresh is optimal) 

7 cups water

2 parmesan rinds (see note)

1 (14-ounce) can cannellini beans 

1 small bunch kale (4–5 cups lightly packed), stems removed, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Parmigiano Reggiano, to garnish

Directions:

  1. In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, sauté the onions in the oil over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the leek and garlic and cook another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often. Add tomato paste and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Add carrots, celery, rosemary, or thyme (or both herbs), water, and parmesan rinds. Bring to a boil then simmer for about 20 minutes, partially covered. 
  3. Add kale, salt, and white beans and simmer for another 10 minutes, or until kale is tender. Adjust salt (if it’s at all bland, add more salt). Garnish with parmesan cheese. 

Note: Parmesan Rinds are a Flavoring Secret

The rind from a wedge of parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano, adds complexity and depth to a soup made with water instead of stock. Like a bay leaf, the rind flavors the soup and then is pulled out and discarded when the soup is finished. 

As a flavoring agent, rinds work especially well for Italian-style soups, vegetable soups, minestrones, and some tomato soups — especially when you don’t have stock on hand.

Remove the rind from a wedge of fresh parmesan yourself, or buy a container of rinds. Some markets, such Whole Foods Market cheese departments, sell 4 to 6 parmesan rinds together in a container. Rinds can be stored in a zip-lock bag in the freezer to use as needed.

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Catherine Walthers
Catherine Walthers
Catherine Walthers, Bluedot’s food editor, is a Martha’s Vineyard-based writer, culinary instructor, and private chef. A former journalist, she is the author of 4 cookbooks, including Kale, Glorious Kale, Soups + Sides, and Raising the Salad Bar. She wrote an environmental guidebook called A Greener Boston published by Chronicle Books in 1992. Follow her on Instagram @catherine_walthers.

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