Although it may not feel like it outside, it’s winter time right now and what better way is there to celebrate the season than enjoying bread with your family?
Carol Field, author of “The Italian Baker, Revised: The Classic Tastes of the Italian Countryside” explains how to turn your day-old bread into a gourmet surprise. Here’s one way you can do it:
Minestrone Toscana Tuscan Bean Soup (Makes 6 servings)
8 ounces (225 g) dried white cannellini beans, ?or 11/2 cups canned cannellini beans with their liquid
3/4 cup (5.8 oz / 165 g) olive oil
2 large yellow onions (about 1 lb / 450 g), finely chopped
3 ribs celery (5 oz / 150 g), diced
4 carrots (10 oz / 300 g), peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon (0.2 oz / 5 g) tomato paste
2 teaspoons (0.4 oz / 10 g) warm water
2 ripe tomatoes (12 oz / 310 g), chopped
2 bunches Swiss chard (about 2 lb / 900 g), ?stems trimmed and leaves chopped
2 firmly packed cups (about 6 oz / 175 g) ?lacinato or dinosaur kale, stems trimmed, leaves chopped (about 1 bunch)
3 cups (about 6 oz / 175 g) finely shredded ?Savoy cabbage
4 boiling potatoes (about 13 oz / 375 g), peeled ?and chopped
1 fresh small chile, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons (0.1 oz / 2 g) chopped fresh thyme?or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 to 6 cups (42 to 49 oz / 1.2 to 1.4 kg) cold water
12 slices (about 11/2 lb / 600 g) stale pane toscano scuro (page 88) or pane toscano (page 84)
Best-quality Tuscan olive oil, for garnish
If you are using dried beans, soak the beans overnight in water to cover, then drain. Bring the beans and fresh water to cover by 2 inches to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until tender, about 11/2 hours. Drain the beans but reserve the cooking liquid. Purée three-quarters of the cooked beans with a little of the cooking liquid or three-quarters of the canned beans in a little of their liquid in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in a blender. Reserve the remaining whole beans.
Heat 1/2 cup of the oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and sauté until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Thin the tomato paste with the warm water and add the thinned paste and the fresh tomatoes to the vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the chard, kale, cabbage, potatoes, puréed beans, chile, garlic, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the remaining liquid from cooking the beans or from the can of beans and enough of the cold water to cover the vegetables. Heat to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 2 hours. Add the reserved beans 10 minutes before the soup is done.
Just before serving, grill or toast two slices of bread for every serving. You can sauté the bread in the remaining 1/4 cup of oil, or brush one side of each slice with oil and bake on a baking sheet at 400ºF until golden, or brush the bread with oil and grill under a broiler or over an open fire. Place the bread in the bottoms of wide soup bowls and ladle the soup over the bread. Drizzle a fine ribbon of olive oil over each serving.