Thursday, February 13, 2014

Borlotti Bean Soup with Porcini Mushrooms

This is the time of year to find freshly dried borlotti beans, or cranberry beans. Either name describes a dried bean that cooks within 60 to 90 minutes into a substantial, flavorful, dare I say, meaty tasting bean. I usually find these at the farmer's market, but I have also seen them in well stocked groceries with the dried beans or bulk products. They're delicious when cooked until tender, and mixed with a mélange of vegetables and spices to deepen the flavor. I've leaned towards mushrooms in this recipe, especially using the broth from rehydrated mushrooms to deepen the flavor of the cooking liquid. If you want a vegan dish, omit the cheese and top with roasted red peppers. If you want something with a bit of meat in it, add 1/4 cup of cubed ham or 3 slices of cooked, drained, and chopped bacon. Add the meat after the beans are almost fully cooked.


1 cup borlotti or cranberry beans
1/4 cup dried porcini (or shitake) mushrooms
1/4 tsp. chili flakes (optional)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried sage, or 3 minced sage leaves
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup chopped pepperoncini (optional)

1 tsp. olive oil
1 cup sliced crimini mushrooms
3 stalks celery, sliced, including green tops
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup red wine or vegetable stock

1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/4 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese for topping
1/4 cup sliced roasted red pepper

Directions: Cover the beans with 1 quart of water in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, cover, then reduce to a simmer. Meanwhile, place the mushrooms in a saucepan, cover with 2 cups of water and simmer for 15 minutes. After the mushrooms have simmered, strain the cooking liquid into the pot of cooking beans. Add more water to the beans, if the cooking liquid doesn't continue to cover them.
Add the optional chili flakes, thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, and bay leaves to the cooking beans. Let the beans simmer until almost tender. Fresher beans take less time to cook than older ones. The cooking time may vary from 60 minutes to 90 minutes, depending on the freshness of the beans.

Let the rehydrated porcini or shitake mushrooms cool. Prepare the mushrooms by slicing the fresh mushrooms and chopping the rehydrated dried mushrooms. Chop the onion, slice the celery, and mince the garlic. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the mushrooms, celery, onion, and garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the vinegar and red wine. Continue to cook until the liquid is almost absorbed, about another 3 minutes. Add the mushroom mixture to the almost tender beans. Continue to cook until the beans are completely tender, another 15 to 20 minutes. Add the pepperoncini, if using, then correct the seasoning with salt and pepper, if needed.

Serve in bowls, each topped with 1 Tbs. of Parmesan cheese

Serves 4

Stealthy Cooking Tip: It's important to add the vegetables cooked in vinegar and wine, along with the vinegary pepperoncini when the beans are almost done and tender. Adding acidic or salty products, like vinegar, wine, or preserved pickled peppers, to beans too early causes the cooking process to slow down. It could add an extra 30 to 60 minutes to your cooking time. The best way to test for tenderness is to taste several of the beans. Don't be tempted to taste just one! Taste several to make sure they're all mostly tender.

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