White Bean Soup with Parmesan and Kale

We’ve escaped to Santa Barbara for a week with our friends Ryan and Jonathan, forming a mini quarantine community as Covid cases blow up all over the country. It’s making me think a lot about the idea of a “chosen family,” since my biological family is 3,000 miles away in Florida, at the epicenter of the virus (don’t worry: they’re doing okay).

Usually, when I go on vacation with friends, I take a break from cooking (causing much controversy since many friends are like: “Hey, I look at your Instagram, why aren’t you making me dinner?”). But here in our Santa Barbara bubble, I’ve happily become the resident chef: slicing fruit for yogurt and granola in the morning, toasting bread for sandwiches at lunch, and then whipping up random dinners. I may be annoying as a person, but as a quarantine roommate, I’m a star.

When packing for this week-long escape, I decided to load up my car with all kinds of cooking equipment: my stock pot (great for cooking for a group; not just for making stock), my Le Creuset Dutch oven, my knives, and a few essential tools (a microplane grater, a handheld juicer, a digital thermometer). I also brought a bag of Rancho Gordo cassoulet beans (white beans) in case I felt like making soup.

As you can see by the picture, my soup vision became a reality on our first full night here. The night before, I soaked the white beans in a big bowl of cold water. The next day, I went shopping at Lazy Acres — a pretty charming grocery store here in Santa Barbara, though with my mask on tightly, I was more concerned with getting out of there alive — and came home with onions, carrots, celery, Tuscan kale, rosemary, garlic, and a pasta that seemed good for soup (I forget the name). I also found the most incredible raw milk Parmesan.

It’s a wonder I didn’t just eat the whole thing by itself. Instead, I cut the rind off and threw it into my Dutch oven along with the rinsed beans, lots of cold water, and all of the aromatics. Those perked away for about an hour and then I made a soup base with the rest of the vegetables, pouring the beans and their broth in (after picking out all the stuff) and supplementing with water. The pasta goes in, along with the kale, and then you cook just until the pasta’s al dente.

The resulting soup was so cozy and comforting and not at all wrong for summer, when soup usually comes in the cold variety. But it’s chilly here at night, and this soup is still light because of the white beans and a hit of lemon zest that I added at the end.

Plus I used celery leaves as a garnish because you should never throw away your celery leaves. All in all, it’s a soup that anyone can make and everyone should make, especially now. It’s healthy but feels like a hug. And don’t we all need a hug these days? Here’s my hug to you.

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White Bean Soup with Parmesan and Kale

A warming, light soup with lots of flavor from garlic, Parmesan rind, and lemon.
Servings 4 hungry people

Ingredients

For the beans:

  • 1 bag Rancho Gordo cassoulet beans (16 ounce bag) Any dry white beans will do here, but these are the best.
  • 1 whole carrot, peeled and broken in half
  • 1 large piece of celery, broken in half
  • 1 whole yellow onion, sliced in half
  • 1 head of garlic, sliced through the equator (exposing all the cloves)
  • 1 Parmesan rind (cut off a wedge of aged Parmesan)
  • A few sprigs rosemary
  • 1 dried red chile
  • 3 Tbs Kosher salt

For the soup:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped (leaves reserved)
  • 6 cloves garlic, sliced
  • Pinch red chile flakes (plus more for serving)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 pound small pasta (orecchiette, conchigliette, Orzo)
  • 1 head Tuscan kale, stemmed and sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh lemon zest (for serving)
  • Grated Parmesan (for serving)

Instructions

  • The night before you make the soup, rinse the beans and soak them in a large bowl of cold water. Change the water in the morning.
  • In a large pot or Dutch oven, add the drained beans, the carrot, the celery, the onion, the garlic, Parmesan rind, rosemary, and dried red chili. Cover by at least an inch with cold water and season with the salt. Turn the heat to high, bring to a rapid boil for five minutes. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, for at least an hour, until the beans are cooked through and creamy. (Note: make sure they're creamy, or you haven't cooked them long enough.) It's a good idea to taste the broth as it goes along; if it needs more salt, add it.
  • When the beans are done cooking, turn off the heat and use tongs to remove the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, Parmesan rind, rosemary, and chili. It's okay if some stray rosemary needles are floating around or bits of garlic skin; this is a rustic soup. Set the beans aside.
  • In your largest pot, add the olive oil and saute the onion, carrots, celery, garlic with a pinch of salt until everything is soft but not brown. Add the red chili flakes, cook a moment longer, then add the white wine and let it cook until it boils off.
  • Add the entire pot of white beans and their liquid. Stir everything together and then add about two cups of water with another pinch of salt. Turn the heat to high and let everything perk away together for fifteen minutes.
  • Taste the broth: it should be perfectly seasoned. If not, adjust with more salt. If it's too salty, add more water. Add the pasta and kale and cook together until the pasta is perfectly al dente.
  • To plate, ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle with more olive oil, and sprinkle with the lemon zest, the Parmesan, more red chili flakes, and the celery leaves to garnish.

More White Bean Soups:

Soup of Cannellini Beans with Pasta and Rosemary (Amateur Gourmet)

White Bean Soup with Bacon and Herbs (Food & Wine)

Tuscan White Bean Soup (Barefoot Contessa)

Mediterranean White Bean Soup (The Kitchn)

Italian Wedding Soup (What’s Gaby Cooking)