It did take 2 1/2 hours of cutting and chopping and cooking, but I made this AWESOME Italian soup from Ina Garten called ribollita. It has a little pancetta and every veggie on the planet in it (plus, I added zucchini that wasn't even called for). And at the very end, you throw in chunks of bread that become like little dumplings floating in there, and serve it topped with shredded parmesan. So rib-stickingly comforting and flavorful! It's a great weekend project (as it is time-consuming to make), but it will feed a crowd AND give everyone lunches for the following week, or you could freeze the leftovers for an easy warm-up in the coming chilly weeks. (Conversely, you could halve this recipe and make a more reasonable portion.)
(Source: Ina Garten, Food Network)
1/2 pound dried white beans, such as Great Northern or cannellini (screw that...use canned beans, make your life easier!)
1/4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for serving
1/4 pound large diced pancetta or smoked bacon
2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
1 cup chopped carrots (3 carrots--I used 4)
1 cup chopped celery (3 stalks)
*I added one small zucchini, cut in eight pieces, then sliced thinly
3 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes in puree, chopped (I used two cans, and I just crushed them with my hands)
4 cups coarsely chopped or shredded savoy cabbage, optional (I used Napa cabbage because it's milder, removing the hard spines)
4 cups coarsely chopped kale (I removed the stems)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
4 cups sourdough bread cubes, crusts removed (I used ciabatta)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, for serving
In a large bowl, cover the beans with cold water by one iinch and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to soak overnight in the refrigerator.
Drain the beans and place them in a large pot with 8 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add one teaspoon of salt and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the beans are tender. Set the beans aside to cool in their liquid.
(Or ignore all of the above and use three cans of cannellini beans!)
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large stockpot. Add the pancetta and onions and cook over medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the carrots, celery, zucchini (if using), garlic, one tablespoon of salt, the pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the tomatoes with their puree, the cabbage, if using**, the kale, and basil and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for another 7 to 10 minutes.
Drain the beans, reserving their cooking liquid. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree half of the beans with a little of their liquid (or one can with its liquid). Add to the stockpot, along with the remaining whole beans. Pour the bean cooking liquid into a large measuring cup and add enough chicken stock to make 8 cups. Add to the soup and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
Add the bread to the soup and simmer for 10 more minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve hot in large bowls sprinkled with parmesan and drizzled with olive oil (I omitted the olive oil here).
**I am generally anti-cabbage myself, but I recommend you use it in this soup. It adds another layer of flavor that is very nice, and it does not overpower anything else if you use Napa cabbage (just the soft, mild leaves, not the spines). Savoy cabbage would be nice, too.