Being a Southern gal, NYC winters always come as a shock to me. Even after four years here, I am never ready for that first dip below 40 degrees F. (Yes anything under 40 degrees is freezing to me!) Walking home from the grocery store this morning in 26 degree weather was a bone-chilling experience despite ample layers: thermal leggings, wool sweater dress, wool thermal socks, boots, winter coat, hat, gloves... Let's just say I couldn't feel my toes, fingers, or nose by the time I got home. Not to worry, I was was quickly warmed by blasts of radiator heat and a hot cup of cider. But still.
Despite the fact that I have another four months of this to look forward to, I am not (too) worried. I have a secret weapon that keeps me warm all winter long: Tuscan White Bean Soup. I have been making this soup for years, always experimenting with different types of greens according to my mood (or what's in the fridge). Spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collard greens...they're all delicious in this recipe.
I love Tuscan White Bean Soup for so many reasons. First of all, in the spirit of the Recession Cookbook, it's super affordable to make AND contains a bunch of ingredients that are already in my pantry (cannellini beans, chicken broth, garlic, onion) and fridge (herbs, carrots, celery, greens, Parmesan). Second, it is extremely versatile. The prosciutto can be substituted for bacon OR eliminated altogether if you want to make the soup vegan (in that case take out the Parm and substitute the chicken broth for veggie broth). Also, as I mentioned above, the Swiss chard can be swapped out for any dark leafy green.
Third, it's chock full of vegetables and I always feel quite virtuous eating something with so much fiber (and so little fat!). And last, but not least, it freezes really well. If you are just cooking for two you'll have tons of leftovers: freeze half of the batch for another cold night.
I made a big pot of this soup on Monday and I've got one last bowl to enjoy for lunch today (an added bonus: the flavors actually improve after a few days in the fridge). If only I could convince my husband Brandon to embrace the concept of soup. I could eat a different soup every day, but he, tragically, has an aversion to hot liquids. (Maybe therapy could help?) Making a pot of soup for one might seem rather silly, but a Southern gal's got to do what a Southern gal's got to do to survive a NYC winter!!
Tuscan White Bean Soup with Swiss Chard
1 bunch Swiss chard (or other dark leafy green such as kale)
1 - 2 Tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 slices finely chopped prosciutto
1 T chopped rosemary (divided)
1 T thyme leaves (divided)
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
1 bay leaf
3 cans white (cannellini) beans, drained and rinsed
1 32-ounce box low-sodium chicken broth (about 4 cups)
1 Parmesan rind
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Splash of balsamic vinegar (about 1 teaspoon)
Cut off the tough ends of the chard and rinse the greens thoroughly. Shake or pat dry and tear into bite-size pieces. Set aside.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Saute the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic for 3 minutes or until the onion is translucent, stirring often. Add the prosciutto, HALF the herbs, the red pepper flakes (if you choose), and bay leaf and saute for another 3 minutes until fragrant. Stir in the beans and saute for another minute or two. Pour in the chicken broth, toss in the Parmesan rind, and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in the Swiss chard and cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes or until the greens have wilted. Season with salt, pepper, the other half of the herbs, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Remove the Parmesan rind before serving (if you can find it!).
Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and warm crusty bread.
TIP: When I am running short on time, I will sometimes buy the pre-cut "Mirepoix" blend of onion, celery, and carrot at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. You can find it in the produce section. This seems like cheating, but it really does save time in a pinch!
TIP: Another time-saving tip: substitute chard or kale for a bag of baby spinach leaves.
TIP: This soup gets thicker the longer it sits, so when reheating leftovers I always add some water to thin it out a bit.