January 22, 2009—11:45 AM – Judging from the fragrances in the air at the moment, I'm certain that tonight's dinner will be quite rewarding. I usually cook dinners that are quickly prepared in a somewhat healthful manner and served easily given our typical schedule, but I started tonight's dinner last night! Don't get scared about trying this recipe … it's not as hard as it already sounds! Stick with me!
At the end of the meal that Ken and shared to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary last week, the server wanted to know what our favorite part of the meal had been. We rarely eat meals in courses (sadly!), but this meal was special and we decided to take our time and enjoy the full Italian dining experience. We had these crazy good shrimp that had been broiled with a minted-lemon-goat cheese topping for the Antipasti. Zuppe or Insalate follows and I chose the small bowl of Zuppe Fagioli (White Bean Soup). We shared a Primi dish of Fusilli Zafferno, which had Italian sausage, currants, pinenuts, and was topped with an arugula saffron cream sauce—superb dish! Our Secondi dishes were chicken for Ken (which I ended up eating!) and Braised Lamb Shank for me (which Ken ended up eating!). "So what was our favorite part of the meal?" the server wanted to know. For Ken, it was the Fusilli Zafferno, which I'll be trying to recreate at some point. And for me, hands down, it was the Zuppe Fagioli! See? I'm not that hard to please … just give me some good peasant soup and I'm happy as a clam … or mussel… ?
(I'm not sure whether 'soup' in Italian is 'zuppE' or 'zuppA' … the menu at Assaggio's says 'zuppe', but other places (the cookbook I'm using today!) has it written 'zuppA'! If you speak Italian, can you please enlighten me on this issue?! I've got all kinds of questions in this post.)
(an added note … I found this recipe in "Italian Slow and Savory" –a cookbook by Joyce Goldstein)
Assaggio's Fagioli had pancetta in it which probably was a large part of why I loved it. Although it is a hearty soup, it wasn't too heavy. And I've been craving it ever since … especially since we've had so many foggy days. I'm beginning to think that Seattle drifted south to San Francisco! Yesterday, I pulled out some cookbooks and started comparing White Bean Soup recipes:
I came across plenty and most of them are very similar with only a few differences to each. I decided to try all of them!! Not all of them TODAY, but eventually, I want to compare them all and decide how I want to create my own version of it. The recipe I'm trying today is called Zuppe di fagioli e cozze in Italian. Do you know what 'cozze' means? Mussels! Sounds like 'cozy' to me! And I'm so fortunate to have a fantastic seafood market in my local grocery … they say that to get fresher seafood, I'd have to go to the docks myself!
Noon PST—When I said that I started tonight's dinner last night, I was referring to having taken a pound of beans and put them in water to soak overnight. Not very hard and not very time consuming! And the reason there's a wonderful fragrance in my home at this moment is that I've been simmering the beans with onions, garlic, bay leaf, and chopped tomatoes. The only time that it took was to chop the veggies. They've been working their magic on the coziness of my home all on their own!
5:04 PM— (This is a bit like 24!) I've been piddling about the house this afternoon, wondering if my car will start tomorrow when I need to pick up from school, and smelling our dinner. Ken worked ALL NIGHT last night –yes, from about 8:30 yesterday morning!—he's a stud who provides quite well – and since he was home at 'pick-up time' he offered to do so. I convinced him that I was tending to the Zuppe.
Not really … I was scrapbooking the whole time. Don't tell, please.
Long about 5:20, it was time to get the rest of the soup together. That consisted of making the mussels happy with a clean shave (you have to clean them and remove their beards! No joke … you REALLY have to do that!), chopping onions, mincing garlic, and mixing in red chili peppers.
How can you NOT buy a bottle of wine that has a smiley face on it?! Really, folks, have you NO heart?! I want my mussels to be happy and this was just the liquid to accomplish my goal!
(NOTE: NEVER, but NEVER cook with 'COOKING' wine!! There's way too much sodium in it … and it can really not even be labeled as 'wine'. Who would dare? No Frenchman, I'm sure!! I don't know what the proverbial 'they' were trying to accomplish with 'cooking wine', but it wasn't 'good taste in food'! If it's not intended for social consumption, then it's not intended for culinary consumption! 'Nuff said.)
Chop the onion, cook it a bit, and add the garlic and chili flakes. Then to prepare the way for the mussels, add the white wine.
They will cook ever so happily …
… because they approved of the Smiley Face on the wine bottle!
9:48 PM – At this point, I will type in the recipe … because I became so consumed with the aromas and finishing off the recipe correctly that my camera was left behind …
All I can say is I'm sorry.
Zuppe di fagioli e cozze (White Bean Soup with Mussels)
For the beans:
- 1 pound dried white beans, soaked overnight
- 2 yellow onions, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes (I only CHOPPED!)
To prepare the beans, drain them, transfer to a large saucepan, and add water to cover by about 3 inches. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaf, and tomatoes and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, add 2 teaspoons salt, and simmer gently, uncovered, until the beans are tender, about 1 hour. You don't want them to be mushy, so check for doneness after about 45 minutes.
Set aside for a few hours or refrigerate overnight.
- ¼ c. olive oil
- 2 yellow onions, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ t. chili flakes (optional)
- 2/3 c. dry white wine
- 36 mussels (about a pound and a half)
- Fish stock, only if needed
- 1-2 T. chopped fresh tarragon
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 T. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
In a wide sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and the chili pepper flakes and cook for 2 minutes longer. Pour in the wine, add the mussels, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Cover and cook until the mussels open, which should take only a few minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and lift the mussels from the pan, reserving the contents of the pan. Discard any mussels that fail to open. When the mussels are cool enough to handle, remove them from their shells, holding them over a bowl as you work to catch all of the juices.
Reheat the beans to serving temperature. Add the mussels, the onion mixture in which they were cooked, and the captured juices to the beans and stir to mix. If the soup is toto thick, add a little fish stock. Simmer for a few minutes to heat all the ingredients thoroughly.
Add the tarragon to taste, and season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls, sprinkle evenly with the parsley and serve at once.
Enjoy as immensely as we did! It's not exactly like what I had at Assaggio's, but I'll continue to experiment! I think the pancetta might be a clue …