October 22, 2010

Rancho Gordo yellow eye bean soup

After 5 days of traveling, I wanted -- no, needed -- soup. While we were in New York, we did things like eat apple cider doughnuts for breakfast (only because it was too late to run over to Petrossian for my favorite croissant) so I came home craving super wholesome food. Bonus: eating steel cut oats for breakfast makes me feel way better about avoiding piles of laundry and unopened mail.

After oatmeal, the first thing I made was a bean soup recipe from Ubuntu, a vegetarian restaurant/yoga studio in Napa, CA. My normal bean soup strategy is to simmer beans with aromatics and pork of some type (pancetta, ham bone, etc.) but I opted against meat this time; I had Rancho Gordo beans in the pantry and I wanted a soup that would let the beans and their broth shine. 

rancho gordo beans

For me, soup making is a leisurely business, not to be rushed. This soup takes a little time but it's all fairly straightforward: you soak the beans for a few hours and then simmer them in water, which is fortified with carrot, onion, dried chile, parsley stems, garlic and lemon zest. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, you cook chopped carrots, leeks, onions, garlic, minced rosemary, more dried chile and some whole canned tomatoes that you crush with your hands. It's a little fussy, I know, using two pots to make soup, but you get better flavor and tender, not mushy, vegetables. A little more simmering, a sprinkling of parsley, a drizzle of olive oil -- done.


I must admit I didn't have great expectations for the soup. I mean, rosemary, olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, tomatoes? Nothing new to see here; snooze. But. Mark picked up his glass of wine and made a solemn toast to "the best bean soup ever" -- high praise coming from someone who isn't the world's biggest fan of beans. Those people at Ubuntu, though, they know what they're doing. The yellow eye beans are creamy, and the broth is incredibly flavorful: you get earthiness from the beans, heat from the chile, tang from the lemon zest and sweetness from the vegetables. I'm a sucker for tasty broth and this stuff is bright tasting and restorative, just the kind of soup I'd like to have on the stove when friends or family come over on a chilly night. Elbows on the table, soup spoons in hand, rustic bread for dipping. I can't wait to make this again.


Rustic Rancho Gordo Yellow Eye Bean Soup
adapted from the San Francisco Gate and the NYTimes
6-8 servings, at least

Try to seek out good dried heirloom beans for this recipe. Rancho Gordo beans are a little more expensive than supermarket beans ($6/lb at Bi Rite Market in SF) but the texture and flavor of the pot liquor is worth it. Plus, they cook quickly, this recipe makes a lot AND I suspect it will freeze well.

For the beans:
1 lb Rancho Gordo or other yellow eye beans, soaked 4 to 6 hours (this was between 2 1/2 to 3 cups of beans)
1 large carrot, peeled
2 ribs celery
1 small onion, quartered
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
Stems from 1 bunch Italian parsley, tied with kitchen twine
1 dried red chile de arbol
lemon zest, about 1/4 of the surface area of a regular sized organic/nonwaxed lemon
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons kosher salt
a few turns of a pepper grinder, to taste

For the soup: 
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large carrots, peeled and diced, about 1/2 inch
2 large ribs celery, cut in half and diced, about 1/2 inch
1 thick leek or 2 thin leeks, well cleaned, cut into quarters and sliced (white and light green parts only) 
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon red chili flakes, more or less, depending on your tolerance for heat
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup canned whole tomatoes, drained and squeezed/chopped into small-ish chunks
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

For the beans:
1. Drain the beans and add them to a large pot (my soup pot is 5.5 quarts). Add 3 quarts cold water, along with the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, lemon zest and parsley stems. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a slow simmer.
2. Cook until the beans are soft and creamy, but not falling apart. Start checking after 25 minutes. Mine took about 30 minutes, as they were very fresh but older beans can take several hours.
3. Turn off the heat and discard the parsley stems and vegetables. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons salt and a few turns of a pepper grinder. Allow the beans to sit for at least 10 minutes. The beans will absorb salt as they sit so, after 10 minutes, taste a bean to make sure they are salty enough. You may wish to add more salt -- I had to add another half tablespoon of salt at this point. The broth should taste earthy with a little zip from the lemon zest.

For the soup:
4. While the beans are cooling in their liquid, add the olive oil into a separate large pot set over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, leeks, garlic, dried chile and rosemary. Cook until the vegetables are translucent and just cooked through. Add the tomatoes and cook until slightly caramelized.
5. Add the beans and their cooking liquid, bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and, if desired, a little more red chile and lemon zest. (I didn't find it needed any more seasoning, actually.) Just before serving, add the chopped parsley and a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

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