This one goes out to all my vegetarian friends. The more recipes I see that are vegetarian, the more I am drawn to them. I've found myself craving greens, beans and grains and not even missing a meat protein. I couldn't even tell you why, exactly, because as much as I love furry animals, I don't really mind eating them. I do respect that decision to not eat meat; I'm just not quite prepared to not have a little taste of bacon or cheese every now and then. They add a lot of flavor. However, something as good as this soup doesn't need anything else added to it to make it delicious. Except for a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
I've seen this last step in recipes and wondered if it really made that much difference to the overall experience. I mean, really, it's a drizzle. How can you taste it, after you mix it in with all those other flavors? I was skeptical. But I made this soup vegetarian on purpose, even though my first instinct would be to at least throw a rind of Parmesan cheese in the pot while it's cooking. Not this time; this is a vegan soup. The recipe I based mine on called for a little bit of olive oil on each serving. So I went with it. I'm telling you right now that this is a crucial step. If it makes any kind of sense to add olive oil to the soups I make after this, I'm adding that liquid gold. Here's why:
Not only is it stunningly simple and beautiful in the bowl, it also makes all the flavors mingle and even intensifies them. Olive oil adds a creamy, lush texture that is lighter than any dairy, and has a green flavor to it that only contributes to the variety of vegetable flavors that harmonize in your mouth. This is my exhortation to you: go green ( at least in your soup bowl). You won't believe how good vegetables can taste when they get a chance to really shine on their own.
Italian Vegetable Soup
adapted from Orangette
Makes a ton (it freezes well, but feel free to cut all ingredients by half if you don't want to eat this for a week)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lb. dried cannellini beans
2-3 fresh thyme sprigs
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled, left whole
2-3 large yellow onions, chopped
8 carrots, 1/4" rounds
5 celery ribs, 1/4" slices
2 sm. zucchini, halved lengthwise, 1/4" slices
1 qt. vegetable broth
1 bunch red chard, rinsed, stalks and ribs discarded, leaves sliced thin
28 oz. can whole tomatoes, juices reserved, chopped
4 oz green beans, 1/2" pieces
4 oz fresh/frozen baby lima beans (thawed, if frozen)
Soak beans in water to cover overnight. The next day, drain and place in large pot, add water to cover by 2" and cook, with thyme and garlic for 1 hour. As beans cook, skim off any foam and, halfway through cooking, add 1 1/2 T. salt. Heat 2-3 T. oil in large soup pot. Add onions, carrots and celery and saute 10-15 minutes, stirring, salting lightly and adding more oil, if needed. Add zucchini and broth, cover and bring to a simmer. Add chard, tomatoes with juices, green beans and lima beans. Cover and simmer over low heat 30 minutes. Add beans and cooking liquid (but if you forget to save the cooking liquid, like I did, it's no big deal; just add about a few cups of water and season with a little extra salt and pepper, if you want). Simmer, covered over low heat 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasoning as needed. Serve over slices of day-old, crusty bread and drizzle with olive oil.