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fall bean soup

By on Oct 16, 2010 in dinner, soup | 0 comments

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The temperature drops, saps slows in the trees, bears begin to ready themselves for a long slumber… fall is here and everything slows down. A luscious hunk of bacon is cut into large chunks and thrown into the heavy enameled cast iron pot. Slowly it begins to release its fat, letting loose that tantalizingly sharp and salty smell that no human seems to be able to resist. A diced pile of the classic carrot, celery, and onion is thrown into the mix. A bit of garlic jumps in, eager to join the fray. The Maillard reaction is in full effect, and the deeply embedded sugars in the veggies being coaxed out and cooking to a deep caramely brown. As the vegetables soften, a giant bowl of white beans soaked all day in cold water and salt gets rinsed over and over again. The beans, temporarily freed from their watery confines, are thrown into the steaming pot. Their freedom is brief. Water and chicken stock are poured on top, a few bruised peppercorns thrown in, and as in all proper soups, a single bay leaf is tucked into the liquidy mass.

One would think the story after this is a long slow boil, with the occasional drama of a pot boiling over and a frantic cook running to the kitchen, one hand desperately clutching the lid while the other quickly tries to turn the burner down, but not so far down that it turns off, but not so high that the Maillard reaction starts to happen all over the burner, with ill effects. But no. This soup has an even slower future in front of it. In honor of fall and the heralding of a long winter hibernation, the large heavy iron pot is lidded and slid gently into a low oven for some quiet contemplation. After two hours, the pot is awoken. It has thought long and hard about the general character of the beans it has held, and it has decided they are good, firm, tender beans, the likes of which you never get from a can. A sprig of rosemary is scuttled into the depths of the soup and the pot is once again left on its own, cooling on the stovetop.

After 15 minutes, the rosemary and bay leaf are removed. The unassuming soup is doled into a favorite chipped old bowl. Kosher salt is generously sprinkled across the top. A few grinds of black pepper. With one bite the gentle texture of the beans and vegetables turns into warm comfort. With a breath in, the subtle undercurrent of rosemary swoops up and around the back of the throat. With a breath out, the warm hint of bacon laps at the tongue. It is a slow soup, each bite to be contemplated. Enjoy.

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