I have one foot still in summer with all the hot weather we’ve been experiencing, and my other foot is planted in autumn. So, don’t be surprised if there are a few zig zags between summer and fall fare as I cook whatever and wherever the weather leads me.
Last week, we had a day that dipped below 70 degrees for a short while. That brief dip was all it took to turn my thoughts to soup, and the next thing you know I was cooking up a big pot of one of my favorite bean soups. This is a soup that I’ve tinkered with through the years until it became a bean soup to rival any other.
It reminds me of the stone soup story I read in grade school. For those not familiar with it, a hobo arrives in a small village and sets up camp on the outskirts of town. He filled a pot he had with water and set it over a fire he had started. He then tied a stone with a piece of string and started dipping the stone into the pot of water. Some of the townspeople came by and asked him what he was doing, and he told them he was making stone soup which they had never heard of before. He told them it was an old recipe and quite delicious, and it was even better with an onion in it. One of the men said that he could get an onion from his wife for the soup, and he did. The hobo put the onion in and said it would even be better yet if he had a couple of carrots. Someone got him the carrots. Next it was celery, then cabbage, and so on. By the time the soup was finished cooking, it was indeed delicious as a result of all the vegetables the townspeople had provided. The hobo took out the stone and gave out samples. All the townspeople agreed that the hobo’s stone soup was the best they had ever tasted.
I didn’t start out with a stone (or nail according to some other stories), but I did start out with a bag of beans. Most supermarkets carry a 1-lb. bag of either 15 or 16 varieties of beans. Usually, there is a little seasoning packet included in with the beans. I used the seasoning packet only once, and that was enough for me. Gah—how to ruin a pot of soup! Nothing but fresh veggies and salt and pepper for me, thank you very much.
The first time I made the soup, I added my usual trilogy of starter vegetables—onions, celery, and carrots. I then rummaged through my vegetable drawer and threw in whatever I had at the time. Through the years, the veggies have varied; but I now have my favorite combo and don’t stray very far from it. On occasion, I will add to it; but I always include broccoli, zucchini, summer squash, sweet potato, and spinach no matter what else might be lurking in the vegetable drawer.
Speaking of the broccoli, it is the secret to this soup. How can putting broccoli in a soup be a secret, you may wonder? It’s not the broccoli per se—but how it is added to the soup. To be honest, I don’t even remember how I started doing this, but it was definitely a flavor changer. Instead of cutting the broccoli into florets, I turn the broccoli stalk on its side and cut the broccoli buds very finely—and I do mean finely!
I throw it into the pot along with the onions as the first vegetables to go in. Normally, especially for a soup that is going to be cooked for a long time, you would add certain vegetables closer to the end of the cooking time so that they don’t turn to mush. In the case of broccoli, you would add it to most soups a lot closer to the end of the cooking time so as to preserve the florets. In my soup, I add it at the very beginning so that by the time the soup is cooked the broccoli buds have pretty much dissolved into the soup and permeated the entire pot with a wonderful flavor. I would venture to say that it is difficult for most people who taste the soup to identify the outstanding flavor as broccoli in origin.
The freshness of the vegetables really shines in this soup—they are almost sweet, but not in a sugary way. If you like beans and broccoli as much as I do, you’re going to love this soup.
Say hello to Fall and soup season, but don’t quite say good-bye to summer yet.
One year ago: My New Go-To Cornbread
Two years ago: Maple Walnut Scones
Fran’s 16-Bean Soup
- 8 oz. (half bag) of 15- or 16-bean soup mixture
- Approx. 12 cups of water
- 2 to 3 large stalks of broccoli
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 to 6 ribs celery, chopped
- 4 to 6 carrots, diced
- 1 small zucchini, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 small summer squash, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 large sweet potato, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 5 oz. chopped spinach (I cook a 10-oz. frozen package of spinach and use half for soup and half for something else)
- Salt and pepper to taste (I add 1 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. of black pepper to start and adjust after tasting.)
- Olive oil for drizzling
Add half the bag of beans to a large 8-quart stockpot. Sift through the beans to make sure there are no little pebbles mixed in. Add enough water to just cover the beans, and soak the beans overnight to soften them.
The next day, pour off the water and add approximately 12 cups of fresh water. Bring the water to a boil.
You do not have to wait for the water to boil before starting to add your vegetables. Add the onions, celery, and finely minced broccoli buds. I also peel the broccoli stalks and add those in bite-sized pieces. By this time, the water should have come to a boil; lower the heat to keep it at a lively simmer. I usually let this mixture simmer for about an hour before adding the carrots and sweet potato. If the simmer dies down too much from the new addition of vegetables, turn the heat back up to get it to a lively simmer again. Then I wait another 30 minutes before adding the zucchini and summer squash because they cook very quickly. Near the end of the soup’s simmering time, I cook the spinach separately according to package directions and squeeze out any excess water before adding half the package to the soup.
Depending on how old your beans are, they should be cooked and soft in approximately two hours. During the cooking process, a fair amount of water will have evaporated. You may want to add another cup or two back into the soup and then adjust seasonings.
When I serve the soup, I drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the top.
- If you’ve forgotten to soak the beans overnight, here’s a quick method to soften them. Cover the beans with water and bring water to a rolling boil. Boil the beans for two (2) minutes and then take off the heat. Cover the pan and let sit for a minimum of two hours (three or four is even better) before starting with the soup directions. You’ll find that the water will have darkened. I don’t pour off the water in this case because some of the bean flavor would be lost.
- Obviously, you can swap out some of the vegetables listed for favorites of your own—but, unless you absolutely hate broccoli and spinach, do not leave these two out. I also am very partial to the sweet potato; it gives it a very distinctive flavor that I just love. In the past, I’ve added cauliflower and string beans; and they were delicious additions.
- I didn’t this time, but I almost always cook some small pasta such as chili mac to make it pasta é fagioli—pasta and beans! Adding a starch such as pasta or rice turns the beans into a complete protein.
Source: A frantastic original