Who would have ever thought that dried beans would be as good as gold?
These are the times we are living in.
Since the shelter-in-place mandate went into effect, social media has been abuzz about how Rancho Gordo heirloom beans are in such demand now that the Napa specialty food purveyor is out of stock until May. Yes, a four-week wait.
But then again, its heirloom beans have always been highly coveted by those in the know.
I’m just thankful to still have several pounds of ’em from my order earlier last year.
What makes them so great? First, there’s the incredible variety, many of which you might be discovering for the first time, which aren’t readily available elsewhere. Second, it’s the freshness. Unlike beans that might sit on a supermarket shelf for years, Rancho Gordo’s beans turn over quickly, meaning that they are new-crop and will cook up faster and more tender. Third, they have so much flavor on their own that you don’t have to do any complicated to enjoy them.
Beans like these are hearty and satisfying, and come in so handy for making salads, stews, and dips. My favorite way to enjoy them is in soup — or in what my husband likes to call, “Carolyn’s Never-The-Same Veggie, Bean, and Sausage Soup.”
It’s never quite the same because I usually cook it on the fly, using whatever ingredients I might have in my fridge or pantry, or that I pick up that day at the farmers market.
These days, when we’re all having to be far craftier in using up veggies in a timely manner with as little waste as possible, this is a great way to use up that sad looking celery in the produce drawer, along with that wilty spinach or half dried-out carrot.
The soup always starts out with Rancho Gordo beans of some sort. For this particular version, I used Alubia Blanca, a small white Spanish heirloom bean that cooks up really creamy yet maintains its shape easily.
I soak the beans in water overnight. I drain them, then add new water along with some diced carrot, onion, celery, and garlic sauteed in olive oil. If you have a potato, cut it in half and add it to the pot, too. Chef Chris Cosentino swears it helps make the beans cook up even creamier — a trick he learned from Italian grandmothers. I’ve tried it and I do think it works.
While the beans cook, I’ll get started on the rest of the soup. Usually, that means sauteing diced sausage or pancetta in a Dutch oven with more onion, carrot, and celery. Then, I’ll hunt through my backyard herb pots or spice cabinet to add flavorings like oregano, marjoram, and/or thyme. Really, it can be anything you fancy.
If I have a can of chopped tomatoes in the cupboard, that will go in, too, along with lots of chicken broth. If I have a Parmigiano rind in the freezer, which I save just for this purpose, I will toss it into the pot, too, because it adds an extra layer of deliciousness.
Then, it’s a free for all. I’ll add kale or chard or cabbage. I might toss in some broccoli florets. Cooked orzo or barley, or even a few more diced potatoes, might be in order, too.
I always end with a splash of red wine or sherry vinegar stirred in, a trick I learned from a Mary Sue Milliken recipe that I’ve used since then in almost all my veggie soups. That little addition of fruity tang really ties everything together perfectly.
I like this soup loaded with vegetables, so that it’s dinner unto itself with a wedge of artisan bread.
Yes, this soup is never the same. But it’s always good.
Just ask my husband.
Carolyn’s Never-The-Same Veggie, Bean, and Sausage Soup
1 pound Rancho Gordo Beans, such as Alubia Blanca or canned beans
Olive oil, as needed
3 carrots, peeled, diced, divided use
2 celery stalks, diced, divided use
1 yellow onion, diced, divided use
2 garlic cloves, peeled, and smashed
1 dried bay leaf, (if you have it)
2 or 3 chicken or pork sausages, diced; or chopped bacon or pancetta
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
A shake or two of dried oregano, dried marjoram, dried thyme, and/or dried celery seeds (whatever is in your pantry)
One (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, (if you have it)
8 cups chicken broth, or more, if needed
A leftover Parmigiano cheese rind (if you have it)
A bunch of greens, tough stems removed, and chopped, such as lacinato kale, curly kale, spinach or Swiss chard
1 cup Romanesco broccoli florets (optional)
1 cup pearl barley, cooked according to package directions
A small spoonful of crushed Calabrian chili peppers (if you like it a little spicy)
A splash of red wine or sherry vinegar, to taste
Grated Parmigiano, for serving (optional)
The night before, place beans in a saucepan and cover with tap water by 2 inches or so. Let soak overnight.
The next day, add 1 tablespoon of oil to a saute pan over medium heat. Saute 1 diced carrot, 1 diced celery, half the yellow onion, and garlic cloves until vegetables soften.
Drain beans, then place them in a large saucepan. Add water to cover by about 2 inches. Heat on medium-high heat. Add the sauteed carrot-onion mixture, and bay leaf, if using, and stir. Just as it nears a boil, turn down to a simmer. Cook for about 40 minutes. Season with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt or to taste. Cook beans for another 5 to 20 minutes, until tender.
In a Dutch oven, add 2 tablespoons olive oil, and heat on medium-high heat. Add sausage or pancetta or bacon, and saute until caramelized. Add the remaining diced carrots, celery, and onion. Cook until vegetables start to soften. Season with salt and pepper. Add whatever dried herbs you are using; saute for 1 minute.
Stir in canned tomatoes and their juices, along with chicken broth. Add Parmigiano rind, if using. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Stir in chopped greens and Romanesco florets, if using. Simmer for 10 more minutes until florets are al dente.
Add cooked beans and their cooking liquid (or drained, rinsed canned beans), along with the cooked barley. If there is not enough liquid to cover, add a cup or more of chicken broth, as needed. Add a splash of vinegar, crushed Calabrian chili peppers (if you want a back note of heat), and salt and pepper, to taste.
Ladle soup into big bowls, and sprinkle on a little grated Parmigiano before serving.
Note: The soup will keep fine in the refrigerator for a week. It can be frozen in a sealed container for a month, too.
From Carolyn Jung
More Sensational Soups: Chicken Meatball Soup
And: Rice and Peas
Plus A Rancho Gordo Recipe: Alubia Bean Salad with Pineapple Vinaigrette
And Another From Me: Christmas Lima Beans with Parsley and Goat Feta Cheese