Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tuscan White Bean Soup with Winter Vegetables

I don't have a lot to say about this recipe (subscription required) from Cook's Illustrated, mainly because I thought it wasn't a very good one. Not that the ingredients were a poor choice or anything, just that the central conceit of cooking the beans until "almost done" and then turning off the heat to let them finish didn't really work at all and just struck me as a foolish venture fraught with crunchy bean peril. It may just be that I have a severe bean making handicap, or just prefer mushier beans than others, but I don't think I've ever made beans that finish in a recipe's alloted time... hell, I'll cook 'em another hour than asked and still find a crunchy bean or two... so the idea of cooking beans until "almost done" strikes me as pure madness. Still, I gave it a shot... and, of course, it didn't work. 30 minutes after turning off the heat there were still plenty of still "almost done" beans. So back up to a simmer they went, cooked for a bit, and off the heat and covered for 30 minutes. Nope, still crunchy ones. I'm a slow learner, but after the second time I had to wonder: Why not just cook the beans until they're done? Do I really care that much if a couple explode? No, not really. Why did I do this recipe again?

Now, as a caveat, I do cook my beans in a 6.75 quart oval dutch oven that Anna suspects is not distributing heat evenly enough on our old skool gas stove (i.e. no bridge burner or whatever). I suppose this is possible (though isn't that the point of the cast iron?), but since I'm sure a lot of people are able to make decent beans under similar circumstances, I'm a little hesitant to blame the equipment. However I will concede that we meed a pot in between our 6.75 and 3.75 quart sizes, and a round one probably makes a little more sense for soups.

Anyway, aside from the stray crunchy beans, it's a pretty good soup. Whoever the Tuscan was who thought of ladling the soup over toasted bread was a genius.