Ingredients: FOR THE BEANS
1 pound (about 2-1/2 cups) dry cannellini or other small dried white beans, soaked overnight or quick-soaked
4 quarts cold water plus more if needed
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons salt plus more if needed
FOR THE GARLICKY SOFFRITTO
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 big cloves garlic, sliced (about 1/3 cup)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon peperoncino flakes
Directions: COOKING THE BEANS
Drain the soaked beans and put them in the pot with the water, bay leaves, and olive oil. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. When the water is at a full boil, set the cover ajar, adjust the heat to maintain a steady gentle boiling and cook for an hour more, until the beans are tender.
Stir in the salt, uncover and continue cooking at a bubbling boil for another hour or more, until the beans and broth have reduced to 3-quarts. Lower the heat as the liquid evaporates and the soup base thickens, stirring now and then to prevent scorching.
FLAVORING THE BASE WITH THE SOFFRITTO
When the soup base is sufficiently reduced, make the soffritto. Heat the olive oil and the sliced garlic in a skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes or so, shaking the pan now and then, until the slices are sizzling. Drop in the peperoncino, stir with the garlic and cook another minute or until the garlic is just starting to color.
From the soup pot, ladle out a cup of the simmering bean broth and pour it into the skillet. Let it sizzle and start to boil, shake and stir up the soffritto, and cook it for a couple of minutes in the broth. Then pour it all back into the bean pot, scraping in every bit of the soffritto or just rinse the skillet out with more broth. Simmer the soup base for another 5 minutes, with the soffritto, then remove from the heat.
The base is ready for a finished soup now or let the whole pot cool; pick out the bay leaves and discard. Keep the soup refrigerated for 3 or 4 days or freeze, in filled and tightly sealed containers, for 4 to 6 months.
Best bean types: Imported cannellini beans from Tuscany, in particular the Sorana (hard to find variety) variety, are the ones to use for white bean soups and any dishes with cannellini. If you can’t find them , substitute any of the small white bean varieties, such as Great Northern, pea beans, or navy beans.
The borlotti bean is the Italian red kidney bean and one of my preferred varieties for the hearty bean and potato soup base. A close relative is our cranberry bean, a smallish bean with mottled pink skin—is a good substitute for the borlotti.
Long Soaking Beans: An overnight soak is the easiest way to rehydrate dried beans before cooking: first pick out any bits of dirt or stones from the beans, then rinse them. Put the beans in a large bowl or pot with cold water covering them by 4-inches or more. Most beans are sufficiently soaked in 8 hours; old beans (from the back of the cupboard, perhaps) take longer. Soak them up to 24 hours until plump and not wrinkled. Skim off any floating particles, then drain well before cooking—don’t cook beans in the soaking water.
Quick soaking beans: If you don’t have time for long soaking, put the rinsed beans in a large pot with hot water to cover by several inches and set over high heat. When boiling, cook for 1 minute; remove from the heat and let the beans sit in the water (uncovered) for 1 hour. Drain and proceed to cook the beans.
White Bean Garlicky Soup