Only soup will do.

There is an Italian proverb which says;

‘Sette cose fa la zuppa, cava fame e sete attuta, empie el ventre, snetta il dente, fa dormire, fa smaltire, e la guancia fa arrossire’

‘Soup does seven things, it takes away hunger and thirst, fills the stomach, cleans the teeth, makes you sleep. makes you slim and puts colour in your cheeks’

Soup is also all I want when I feel like this.

….tiresome aches and fuzzy snuffle, twitching limbs, wildly erratic temperatures and temperament, all accompanied by a rash of self-pity and itchy paranoia that ‘I have contracted something terrible from which I may DIE’ and then the weary disappointment at discovering that even though I feel terrible it is merely a rather common thing…..

So soup it was, borlotti bean soup…..


….a thick and hearty one, you could say progress after yesterday’s chicken broth.

You know the sort of thing I am talking about, I have written about this soup and others very like it with almost excessive regularity here. The robust, rustic bean soups the Italians are so good at, the ones which in essence are just a puree of beans thinned with a little flavoursome stock, studded with more whole beans, scented with rosemary, sometimes fortified with pasta and maybe served with a dribble of raw oil and maybe some freshly grated parmesan.

I forsake the parmesan and oil yesterday figuring simplicity was more appropriate for my convalescence, surprisingly Vincenzo did too. I was about to encourage some sort of soup embellishment for HIS soup for the sake of the photo…..if not oil a parmesan then a blob of yogurt, some snipped chives, croutons…anything, something photogenic, the word garnish crossed my mind. GARNISH….I snapped out of embellishment mode as soon as that word reared it’s limp lettuce leaf of a head from I don’t know where, I remembered what a fine cook once said  ‘say farewell to garnish, just make sure whatever is on the plate is as it should be.’

Which is cosi…A soup proud to be brown and hearty with texture, a soup with no pretensions just the desire to nourish and sustain. A soup that if it were a spa would spurn any scented candle, designer water, soft gowns and towels (which are lovely but so soft they don’t actually dry you), relaxation to music luxury. It would be a rather austere but striking place in the Swiss mountains that encouraged long brisk walks. A place where where buxom, ruddy women wearing white coats would pummel you and give you a proper massage, wrap you up firmly in good coarse towels and a functional brown blanket and instruct you to rest on the terrace with glass of tap water – this is a spa after all, the water has just rolled down the moutain – to breathe the mountain air.


Cannellini beans, chickpeas and borlotti are all fine beans for this recipe, we use tinned, dried and fresh beans depending on the state of affairs in the kitchen, timetable and with our frankly funny seasons.Yesterday it was brilliantly marbled pink and white fresh borlotti which would provide the earthy, nutty chestnutlike body for our soup. Vincenzo was on podding duty…. can I say podding, is pod a verb.……..he was in fact on everything duty, I was horizontal.

bag of beans


I’ve noticed that people are often disappionted that borlotti beans lose there mottled charm when cooked. I don’t, I like the deep earthy russet colour they assume with gentle cooking as much as I love the pink and creamy white marbling they wear when raw.

Vincenzo is a good and patient soup maker. Our bedroom is not so far from the kitchen and I could hear the steady rhythmic sound of him making the battuto– the finely cut up mixture of celery, carrot, and onion produced by striking (battere) them on the chopping board with the knife – I am actually quite surprised he didn’t strike me with something at that point, I was being that annoying and demanding. I could just make out the gentle sizzle of the battuto becoming a soffritto as it was sautéed with the olive oil in the pan…gently for about 20 minutes until it is soft, translucent floppy and starting to look a little thick and sticky.

Oh, two things, which I know are going to sound obvious, it is as much a reminder to myself as you.  First, use really tasty, sweet, earthy carrots, celery and onion, they provide the base of flavour for the soup, if the vegetable foundations are insipid (like so many vegetables are today) the soup will be too. Second, make the soffritto carefully and slowly so the flavours have time to develope and emerge fully.

Back to the recipe, you probably know the rest, the beans are added to the soffritto base along with a sprig of rosemary and a squeeze of tomato concentrate.  The heat is raised and everything briskly stirred so the beans are completely coated with the elements of the base. You stir again and then cover everything with stock or water, throw in a Parmesan rind, bring the pan to a happy boil, reduce to a simmer and then leave the pan to bubble away gently for about 25 minutes (45 for fresh beans.)

Now, remove the rind and sprig of rosemary and set aside a couple of ladelfuls of liquid and some of the whole beans. Now pass the contents of the pan through the mouli or give it a blast with the hand blender to create a smooth gloopy soup. Reunite the beans and liquid you set aside.

Raw oil, some freshly grated parmesan from a big fresh hunk, nice bread.

Ummm….I have written this recipe out so many times and it seems to get more complicated every time….

Wholesome, honest and healing… After a bowl of this I was nearly better…… nearly…….I did need another day resting today……  you know, just in case I was still contagious……a bit more soup…..another film……


Some say this soup is even more delicious with some pancetta or a couple of little pork chops added to the soffritto and allowed to sizzle for another 10 minutes before you add the beans. I agree.

Borlotti bean soup

Serves 4 generously which is as it should be

  • 900g fresh borlotti beans unshelled weight – shelled, or 250g dried borlotti soaked overnight and then simmered for 2 hours until tender or 450g tinned borlotti
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • medium carrot peeled and finely diced
  • stick of celery finely diced
  • mild onion peeled and finely diced
  • 100g pancetta diced or 2 small pork chops (optional)
  • 2 tbsp tomato concentrate
  • small sprig of rosemary
  • 750ml vegetable or chicken stock or water the dried soaked borlotti were cooked in with more plain water added to make up the 750ml if necessary.
  • Parmesan rind
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare your soffritto of finely chopped onion, carrot and celery, sauteing them gently and slowly in the oil in a large heavy based pan until soft and floppy and translucent. If you are adding pancetta or pork chops add them now and cook for another 10 minutes turning in the vegetables every now and then.

Then you add the tomato concentrate and a sprig of rosemary, stir, and then add fresh, precooked or drained tinned borlotti.

Stir again and then cover everything with stock or water, throw in a Parmesan rind. Bring the pan to a happy boil, reduce to a simmer and then leave the pan to bubble away gently for about 25 minutes (45 if you are using fresh borlotti).

Now, remove the rind and sprig of rosemary and set aside a couple of ladelfuls of liquid and whole beans (and pork chops if you added them). Now pass the contents of the pan through the mouli or give it a blast with the hand blender to create a smooth gloopy soup.

Reunite the beans and liquid you set aside (and pork chops if you included them) and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve the soup in warm bowls and allow it to settle for 10 minutes before serving as it tastes better warm rather than hot.


Filed under Beans and pulses, food, recipes, soup

7 responses to “Only soup will do.

  1. I love the comfort of soup when I’m under. Feel better…

  2. Your Vincenzo is a mentsch. I hope you are feeling better.

    Across an ocean, yet on the same wavelength as I’ve made both meatballs and a (dried) borlotti bean soup this week.

  3. It does indeed sound comforting. The soup and the person making it;)

    I love fresh borlotti beans. They are called cranberry beans here. But I see dry beans labeled as borlotti. It’s good to know that they are the same.

    Feel better.

  4. elenagold

    feel better rachel!

  5. You inspired me to grab some shelling beans from the market yesterday…they were SO tasty, though I didn’t get enough to make a very beany soup….

  6. i actually felt relaxed as i read about vincenzo chopping and stirring. just the thought almost put me to sleep! it’s SOOO soup weather here in NYC. this soup looks beautiful and, i’m w/ you, i love the deep beige color.

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