In the final throws of winter in Central Texas, my mind continues to turn to heartier fare. Sometimes, beans sound delicious.
Admittedly, beans are not a food I eat often. I do like them, but it’s not a food that immediately springs to mind when I’m deciding what to make for dinner. They should, though. Beans are almost the perfect food. They have high amounts of fiber and soluble fiber. (One cup of cooked beans providing between nine and 13 grams of fiber.) Soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol. Beans are also high in protein, complex carbohydrates, folate, and iron.
Beans are one of the longest-cultivated plants. Broad beans (fava beans) were gathered in Afghanistan and the Himalayan foothills. They’ve been grown in Thailand since the early seventh millennium BCE. They were buried with the dead in ancient Egypt. In the second millennium BC did cultivated, large-seeded broad beans appear in the Aegean, Iberia and transalpine Europe. In the Iliad (late-8th century) is a passing mention of beans and chickpeas cast on the threshing floor.
Beans were an important source of protein throughout Old and New World history, and still are today.
The oldest-known domesticated beans in the Americas were found in Guitarrero Cave, an archaeological site in Peru, and dated to around the second millennium BCE.
Most of the kinds commonly eaten fresh or dried, those of the genus Phaseolus, come originally from the Americas, being first seen by a European when Christopher Columbus, during his exploration, of what may have been the Bahamas, found them growing in fields. Five kinds of Phaseolus beans were domesticated by pre-Columbian peoples: common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) grown from Chile to the northern part of what is now the United States, and lima and sieva beans (Phaseolus lunatus), as well as the less widely distributed teparies (Phaseolus acutifolius), scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) and polyanthus beans (Phaseolus polyanthus). One especially famous use of beans by pre-Columbian people as far north as the Atlantic seaboard is the “Three Sisters” method of companion plant cultivation:
- In the New World, many tribes would grow beans together with maize (corn), and squash. The corn would not be planted in rows as is done by European agriculture, but in a checkerboard/hex fashion across a field, in separate patches of one to six stalks each.
- Beans would be planted around the base of the developing stalks, and would vine their way up as the stalks grew. All American beans at that time were vine plants, “bush beans” having been bred only more recently. The cornstalks would work as a trellis for the beans, and the beans would provide much-needed nitrogen for the corn.
- Squash would be planted in the spaces between the patches of corn in the field. They would be provided slight shelter from the sun by the corn, would shade the soil and reduce evaporation, and would deter many animals from attacking the corn and beans because their coarse, hairy vines and broad, stiff leaves are difficult or uncomfortable for animals such as deer and raccoons to walk through, crows to land on, etc.
Dry beans come from both Old World varieties of broad beans (fava beans) and New World varieties (kidney, black, cranberry, pinto, navy/haricot).
Beans are a heliotropic plant, meaning that the leaves tilt throughout the day to face the sun. At nighttime, they go into a folded “sleep” position.
(Information from www.wikipedia.org)
The bean varieties I eat most often are pinto and black. Hell, I’m in Texas. It’s almost a requirement. I’ve also enjoyed garbanzo, fava, navy, red kidney, and, my personal favorite, cannellini.
I’m not sure what it is about cannellini beans that I enjoy so much. Perhaps it’s the slight sweetness to them. They’re also very versatile. Like pretty much all beans.
Now, to the recipe.
The recipe is presented as vegetarian. I generally keep it that way. However, if you would like to make the recipe vegan, cook the beans from dried and omit the Parmesan rinds. If you would like to add some meat to the recipe, a little leftover chicken or diced pork would work well.
I do used canned beans in this recipe. Beans are a foodstuff that cans well. It’s also quick, convenient, and cheap.
This is most definitely a dish one can make after a day at work. It also freezes well.
As for the Parmesan rinds: if you have a good cheese section in your grocery store or a specialty cheese shop that cuts Parmesan down from the wheel, ask them to save you some of the rinds. Sometimes you’ll be charged a nominal amount, sometimes you’ll get them for free. Keep them in the freezer. They add a lot of flavor ro many soups and stews without imparting too much extra fat or cheese.
2 cans cannellini beans, drained
1 med. carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 c. yellow onion, minced
4 cl. garlic, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 c. vegetable broth
1 tsp. dried sage
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper, or to taste
Approx. 3 – 4 oz. Parmesan rinds (If they are large enough, you can leave them loose in the soup while cooking. Otherwise, wrap them in a cheesecloth for easy removal after cooking.)
Extra olive oil for serving
1. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables (the mirepoix) and the garlic and saute until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the beans, sage, salt & pepper. Saute another 2 – 3 minutes.
3. Add the broth and rinds. Bring the broth to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook for 30 – 45 minutes, or until the soup begins to thicken. Stir occasionally to be sure the rinds don’t stick to the bottom.
4. When the soup is done, taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking. Remove as many of the rinds as you can before or as you serve. (The rinds are basically inedible.) Drizzle some olive oil over the top of the soup if you like.
I like to have a good hearty country-style bread to serve with the soup.