My husband gifted me with 20 pounds of heirloom beans for my birthday. This would not be met with enthusiasm by some, but I am Our Lady of Legumes and I’ve been cooking my way through them with delight — Christmas limas with roasted peppers and salsa verde, alubia blanca with wild mushrooms, mint and asparagus, crusty limas with garlic, lemon and greens. It was a present for me, but everyone at our table benefits. I still have plenty to of pulses left to celebrate Global Pulse Day on Wednesday — the issue is, what dish would be worthy?
With a trip to Italy on the horizon, I thought of an Italian vegetable soup. I’m Italian not by heritage, but in spirit. By both tradition and necessity, Italian cuisine makes much from little, but there’s nothing little about the flavors. Big, bold and elemental, it’s one of the easiest cuisines to create at home, one of the most luscious ways to eat. So how would this play out? A bean-enriched minestra? Pasta e fagioli? Ribollita, that divine sludge of beans, broth and bread?
Pulses are glad to share the spotlight with other ingredients, from a melange of seasonal vegetables to pasta and bread. For Global Pulse Day, though, I wanted to give them their time to shine.
I soaked a pot of fasolia gigantes — kingsized limas. They hold their own in a pot of soup, imparting oomph and starchiness without bread or pasta, yet they’re creamy to the bite and fun in the mouth. Then I went into the garden to consult my vegetables and see what they advised.
About my tomatoes, the less said, the better. But my peppers and basil are both doing well for the first season ever and I’d already harvested some chard that was starting to languish in my refrigerator. Well, then.
The next day, I roasted the peppers as I put the limas on to cook. When the limas were done, I added the peppers. I chopped the greens and gave them a quick sauté with garlic before adding them, then finished with a handful of chopped basil. It’s more than minestra, it has the comforting substance of a ribollita or a pasta e fagioli without the bread, pasta and tomato, yet it is its own entity, a winter meal in a bowl perfect for Global Pulse Day — or any day. Mangia fagioli (eat beans).
Gigante Global Pulse Day Soup
- 1 pound dried fasolia gigantes royal coronas or similar large limas, soaked overnight in plenty of water
- 3 quarts water or vegetable broth
- 4 garlic cloves whole
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 small dried red pepper crumbled or a pinch of dried red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large onions chopped
- 2 carrots chopped
- 2 stalks celery chopped
- 4 large red peppers*
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar
- 1 bunch chard or other winter greens such as kale or spinach, tough stems discarded
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 handful fresh basil chopped fine
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- Drain and rinse the fasolia gigantes, pour them into a generous soup pot with the water or broth and bring to a high boil. Drop in the whole garlic, bay leaf and dried red peppers.
- Meanwhile, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onions, carrots and celery. Give the vegetables a quick sauté, until they just start to soften, about 5 minutes. When the beans have been on the boil for about 15 minutes, sweep the vegetables into the bean pot, reduce the heat to low and cover to let everyone simmer.
- As the beans simmer, roast the peppers. If you have a gas range, good for you. Otherwise, place the peppers on a baking sheet lined with parchment and set your oven on broil. Place the baking sheet close to the heat source and let the peppers blister, about 8 to 10 minutes. Then turn the peppers and blister on the other side for another 10 minutes or until they’re a softened, scorched mess.
- Remove from the oven and pour the peppers into a paper bag. Seal the bag. Alternately, pour the peppers into a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Let the peppers cool for at least half an hour, or until they’re cool enough to handle. Their skins should peel off easily. Remove the seeds and chop the peppers small. Pour into a small bowl along with any collected juices from the peppers. Toss gently with the sherry or balsamic vinegar. Set aside.
- Check the beans after about 90 minutes. They should hold their shape but be delightfully tender when you bite them. Set the soup aside to cool. Remove the bay leaf and red pepper. The garlic cloves should have melted into the soup.
- If you want, you can call it a day at this point. When the soup has cooled sufficiently, pour into a large airtight container and refrigerate overnight.
- When you’re ready for soup, take 2 cups of the beans and 1 cup of the broth and whizz together in a blender or food processor until smooth, creamy and pale, about 2 minutes. Pour back into the bean pot, along with the chopped peppers.
- Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and bring to a boil.
- Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add the chopped garlic. As it starts to soften and darken, after about 3 or 4 minutes, add the chopped chard or kale by the handful. Stir gently just until the greens soften and wilt but keep their bright color, just a few minutes for chard or kale. The spinach requires almost no time at all. Stir the greens into the bean pot.
- Add the chopped basil and taste again for salt.
- Keeps covered and refrigerated for several days, and like all bean soups, gets more luscious as the flavors have time to develop.
Notes* In a pinch, you can use an 8-ounce jar of roasted red peppers, drained, chopped and tossed with the sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar. Add them at the end, along with the chopped basil, otherwise they'll dissolve into mush.