This cannellini bean soup with fontina gremolata is one I've had my eye on for a long time now. When Chef Jules remarks modestly that he "had this for lunch" and that it was good, you can be sure that it is fit for the finest dinner table.
I tinkered with some of the ingredients — substituting fresh spinach for carrot, and a handful of dried red chillies instead of half a fresh one to give it a little extra kick. I wouldn't be at all embarrassed to serve this attractive and delicious soup to anyone on any occasion. I dished this up with some Baked Italian Brown Rice Balls for a thoroughly satisfying meal. A purist would strain the puréed soup through a fine sieve, as Chef Jules suggests, to give it a perfect creaminess, but I suppose I'm not really a purist, and I would hate to have lost those little green flecks of spinach besides.
I should add that this was the first time I've ever tried a gremolata, since they're more often made as a topping for Italian veal dishes, but it won't be the last. Gremolata would be a nice garnish for a variety of soups and even a nice topping for slices of crusty bread brushed with some olive oil and toasted under the broiler.
Cannellini bean soup with fontina gremolataI'm sharing this soup with Proud Italian Cook and Finding La Dolce Vita who are hosting a new food event featuring Italian food.
1 cup dried cannellini (white kidney) beans
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
4 dried hot red chillies, crumbled
2 black cardamom pods, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
5 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
3/4 cup fontina cheese, very finely grated
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
Soak the cannellini beans overnight in a glass or ceramic bowl covered with 2 inches of water, with a little yogurt whey or lemon juice added. Drain the beans before cooking.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan or medium soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes, until softened. Toss in the beans, tomatoes and dried chillies. Cover and cook gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the cardamom pods and cumin seeds along with the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender.
Remove from heat and purée the soup with a hand blender until smooth. Return to the heat, and add the spinach. Cook for just 2-3 minutes until the spinach is lightly wilted. Remove from heat, and purée once again with the hand blender, this time just until the spinach is finely chopped. Add the salt and pepper, taste for seasoning, and return to a very low simmer until serving.
For the gremolata, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and scatter over freshly ladled bowls of warm soup. Serves 4 to 6.