Tuscan White Bean Soup Adjusted for Slow Cooker

December 7, 2009

This post was written by Sarah of SmartBitches.

Lately on Saturdays I’ve been trying to make one massive recipe in the slow cooker so that (a) we have awesome smells in the house all day and (b) we have leftovers for meals during the week. This week, I’m trying a free recipe from Cooks Illustrated for Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew. Cook’s Illustrated recipes are not usually free, but this one is and since I love beans, and I love Tuscan flavors, I wanted to eat the recipe right off the screen.

However, I wanted to do the recipe in the crock pot. I happen to know that for Hanukkah, one of Hubby’s and my gifts to one another is a very nice cast iron Dutch oven, but Hanukkah isn’t until next weekend and I didn’t want to wait – or spend that much time putting a Dutch oven into and out of my oven. So I used this guide to adapting recipes for the slow cooker and am trying it out.

Note: I’m not adding kale, or any other hearty green. I can’t stand cooked greens of any kind, as they target my gag reflex like nothing else, so I’m not kidding when I say that cooked greens make me gag. No no no.

I started off by soaking the beans per the recipe overnight in salted water. I used Kosher salt, however, which means I used 6 tablespoons – two times the amount of table salt that’s called for in the recipe. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the fine Hebrew people cornered the market in sparkles and pixie dust because Kosher salt is some light and fluffy stuff.

The beans soaked overnight – I know, you’re on the edge of your seat with this bean soakin’ madness up in here. So exhilirating! I barely had a bowl big enough for the 4 quarts of water. I did, however, have enough Press n’Seal to cover the bowl and keep one of my cats out of there. He likes to eat raw onion, tomatoes, and uncooked pasta. I think slightly salted beans would send him to the moon of joy.

Then it was Pancetta Time, baby. A few words about Pancetta: first, it is one of those ingredients that tv chefs say as heavily-accented as possible, because it sounds authentic (to them) and pretentious (to me). However, regardless of how you say it, go get some as a base for any aromatic sautéing you might be doing for a soup because OH HOLY NIGHT PANCETTA smells GOOD.

Another word about pancetta: yes, I’m Jewish. I do not keep Kosher, though many awesome Jewish folk do. I eat ham, bacon, shrimp, bacon wrapped in shrimp with a side of ham, and OH HOLY NIGHT PANCETTA. Seriously. Hubby, who is always somewhat repulsed (ok a lot repulsed) by my preference to use bacon fat instead of oil in some of my recipes that call for frying, walked into the house and said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing that.”

The pancetta needed about 6-7 minutes to get all frilly and awesome and fat-render-y, and then it was vegetable time.

After about six minutes of sautéing in the rendered OH HOLY NIGHT PANCETTA, the house smelled so good I nearly stopped cooking and grabbed a fork. As I said on Twitter, if there were scented candles of carrots, celery, garlic and onion cooking in pancetta, I’d buy those bad boys in minutes – and I as a rule think scented candles are among the most useless things ever, right up there with those electric baby wipe warmers that dry out the baby wipes into a brown crusty mess.

Then, you rise the beans. I know, could there be a more exiting photograph than my hand rinsing a big ol’ wad of beans while Diego looks on? Right – it’s only here to impress upon anyone reading that you have to rinse the beans like rinsing beans is the most interesting activity ever because otherwise you’ll have salt problems like crappin’ damn. Rinse and rinse and rinse some more. Rinse like you have long hair and the water is soft. Rinse it, baby, rinse it good.

Meet Ferdinand, my new slow cooker, named with the help of @Dalmation1011 on Twitter. Thanks to a gift card I lost and then found again, I have a bigger badder more awesomer crock pot than before – my old one is about 10+ years old, and covered with baked on whatevertheheck. This one is shiny and big and has a warming feature. It is dead sexxy, I tell you. (Note: my appliances have names. The rice cooker is Poseidon. I thought about naming the slow cooker Hephaestus, but I’d never remember and end up calling it Hiffy, which is sort of lame for a big honking slow cooker.)

The beans, the vegetable and OH HOLY NIGHT PANCETTA mixture, four cups of broth and three cups of water went into Ferdinand, along with a can of diced tomatoes and two bay leaves. When I read about adapting recipes for the slow cooker, I learned that with the exception of bean recipes, slow cooker recipes need less water than traditional recipes because the water never evaporates in the slow cooker. But beans need all that liquid to absorb so there’s exactly the same amount of liquid in there as the recipe demands. I’ll see if that’s too much or what. I can always reduce it later if so, or thicken it by crushing some of the beans and stirring them into the broth.

Here’s the soup prior to 8 hours on low. I calculated the time in the slow cooker based on the cook time in the original recipe. The recipe calls for about 90 minutes of cooking time, before and after adding the kale, so with that I estimated that it would need about 8 hours. I could be wrong – but the nice thing is, I’m home. So if the beans are tender and awesome and it’s only been 7 hours, whatever. I can switch it to warm and eat when I’m ready.

Done! Now that I’ve had a bowl, here are the adjustments I made:

When there was about an hour left, the beans were still gritty, so I turned the heat up to high for the last hour, then added 30 minutes. For the last 30 minutes, I submerged a big ol’ sprig of rosemary, then pulled that and the bay leaves out before I served it. That, plus the additional time on high, made the soup perfect – absolutely perfect.

I served it as Cook’s Illustrated suggested: over toasted rounds of bread that I rubbed with a smashed garlic clove. It was outstanding – definitely a recipe I’ll make again. The broth is simple and almost sweet, and the beans are soft but still have a chewy density that isn’t out of place in the soup. Here’s the optimal serving arrangement:

Fuzzy picture, but trust me. Perfect environment for soup consumption.

I’ve been thinking about the recipes I would most like to share, and a lot of them involve beans. I’m big into savory flavors, beans and other high-fiber foods, and soups, especially in winter. So expect beans, barley, and slow cooking from me, with some grilling recipes from Hubby every now and again. If you have a favorite bean soup recipe, please share! I’m always looking for more. Happy eating!

ETA: It seems the recipe is no longer free, and the technique itself is copyright, though not the ingredient amounts. So, here is the ingredient amount list, at the request of Jenifer:

Table salt
1 pound dried cannellini beans (about 2 cups), rinsed and picked over
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
6 ounces pancetta , cut into 1/4-inch pieces (see note)
1 large onion , chopped medium (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 medium celery ribs , cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3/4 cup)
2 medium carrots , peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
8 medium garlic cloves , peeled and crushed
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 bunch kale or collard greens (about 1 pound), stems trimmed and leaves chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 8 cups loosely packed)
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes , drained and rinsed
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Ground black pepper
8 slices country white bread , each 1 1/4 inches thick, broiled until golden brown on both sides and rubbed with garlic clove (optional)

All recipes at a glance: