Tuscan White Bean Soup for the slow cooker
Cooking beans, for soup or on the plate, has been a subject with which I have struggled over the years. I wrote about this last September, but times have changed.
Having “discovered” the slow cooker for perfectly cooked beans, (thanks RG bean lady), I may have settled on the last, best, cooking method. Look at it this way, on top of the stove, you’re looking at six hours or more for beans (say 4-6 to soak, 1-2 to cook). Soaking is soaking, but during the cooking time, you have to pay attention once in a while, and chances are the beans won’t be perfect because you got impatient or the fire is too hot or not hot enough, whatever. With the slow cooker, throw in the beans and water and anything else you want, turn it on, set the timer and go away. I am a believer.
Thus, I figured I could make perfectly good bean soup. With what I’d learned about the slow cooker, I adapted a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. I chose Tuscan White Bean Soup, the simplest possible bean soup (beans, water, seasonings) for my experiment. I adjusted the ingredients a bit and rewrote the instructions for the slow cooker.
Tuscan White Bean Soup
Makes about 2 1/2 quarts, for 6 — 8
6 ounces pancetta , one 1-inch-thick slice, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound dried cannellini beans, rinsed and picked over
1 large onion, unpeeled and halved pole to pole
4 medium cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon table salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
1 small onion, diced medium
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
Balsamic vinegar, for serving
Slow Cooker Method
1. In heavy-bottomed sauté pan, cook pancetta over medium heat until just golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add chopped onion and olive oil and sauté until softened, 5 minutes. Stir in minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Put contents of sauté pan in Slow Cooker. Add 12  cups water, beans, halved onion, unpeeled garlic, and bay leaf. Cook on high. After about 5 hours, taste the beans for doneness and seasoning. Add salt and pepper and cook longer as necessary.
When the beans are just right, submerge a rosemary sprig in the liquid, cover and let stand off heat 15 to 20 minutes. Discard rosemary sprig and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Ladle soup into individual bowls, drizzle each bowl with extra-virgin olive oil, and serve, passing balsamic vinegar separately.
To add an “authentic” touch to the soup, place a small slice of toasted Italian bread in the bottom of each bowl and ladle the soup over.
Cooks Notes — Dis is good! I used half Rancho Gordo Marrow beans and half RG Florida Butter Beans, Hog Jowl instead of Pancetta [the drawback is that you can eat the Pancetta, but not the Hog Jowl], 12 cups water fills up my 5 quart slow cooker, I set timer for 5 hours on high and tasted, not quite done, went another 40 minutes. There is too much liquid, and the liquid is thinner than I like. Use 10 cups water in the future. But the great thing is, the beans are perfectly cooked and the flavor of the soup is excellent. I had a bowl for a quick dinner before going out to see an R. Kelly show at Mezzanine.
I like my bean soup with potatoes, carrots and celery. With the remaining beans, I strained the broth into a saucepan, added a peeled, cubed potato, a sliced carrot and an equal amount of sliced celery. I cooked those vegetables until tender, about 5 minutes, and added them with the broth back to the beans. I ate a bowl for lunch. Now that soup is really good.
I’m not done yet. I spied a recipe for Rancho Gordo Chili Con Carne on the Rancho Gordo blog. This particular chili involves beans.
Check this space in about a week for a post on My Top Five Chili Recipes.