Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sweet Pepper and White Bean Soup

Mario Batali introduces a recipe for sweet pepper and white bean soup in words that are seemingly quintessential Mario: "The creamy bass notes of white beans play perfectly against the high-hat brightness of the peppers' sweet acidity, extending the spectrum of flavor to the perimeter of yum."

The thing about Mario Batali is that he is exactly on point when it comes to this recipe.  The white beans have a creamy note that fulfills the base of this dish.  I expected the beans to do this, so it is not a great surprise.  What shocked me is the range of those red bell peppers.  I have always known that bell peppers are sometimes called "sweet peppers," because, quite frankly, most other peppers are considered "hot peppers."  However, the red peppers provided an unexpected, yet completely welcomed, sweetness that did, in fact, elevate the soup to levels that I did not expect.

The one thing that Mario left out about the recipe is its versatility.  I made this recipe for my beautiful Angel, who is no fan of pancetta and does not eat chicken.  I substituted turkey bacon for the pancetta and vegetable stock for the chicken stock.  The only difference was the color, which became a more deep red (due to the vegetable stock).  I am sure that other substitutions could be made, such as different beans or even the use of chickpeas in the place of the beans.

In the end, my soup differed from Mario's recipe.  The vegetable stock and turkey bacon provide different flavors than chicken stock and pancetta.  However, Mario's description is still appropriate because the main stars of this soup -- the sweet pepper and white beans -- still perform flawlessly, providing the sweetness and creamy bass notes as Mario suggests.

Recipe adapted from America Farm to Table by Mario Batali at pg. 73
Serves 6 to 8

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (homemade or low sodium-store bought)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice
4 fresh sage leaves
1/4 pound pancetta or bacon, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
3 red bell peppers, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 (15 ounce) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1.  Saute the pancetta, onions and peppers.   In a medium pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil.  In a Dutch oven, heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until almost smoking.  Add the onion, sage and pancetta.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until the onion is slightly browned.  Mix in the tomato paste and the bell peppers and continue to cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes more.  

2.  Make the soup.  Add the boiling chicken stock to the Dutch oven and return to a boil.  Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  In small batches, transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth, then pour into the pot in which you heated the stock.  Add the white beans and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  

3.  Serve the soup.  Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and freshly cracked pepper.


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