On a cold, bleak winter day like today I can't help but daydream about escaping to some place a little less gray. Right now, I'm thinking Italy in the spring sounds just about right. It's been far too many years since I last visited Italy, yes far too many.
And since it will probably be a few more years before I make it back, because I'm not quite ready to tackle foreign travel with three little ones yet, I have to settle for daydreams, my old photo albums, and the lovely shared experiences from my more well traveled friends. However, in the kitchen I can make a few of my Italian dreams come true right now.
Tuscan Bean and Vegetable Soup with Asiago Croutons
2 cups cooked pinto beans *(see note below)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
½ cup celery chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
5 cups water
3 small zucchini squash, sliced
¾ cup carrots, sliced
1 ½ cups red potatoes, cubed
1 cup canned tomato puree
1 cup whole petite green beans, or cut green beans
1 teaspoon ground sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups packed swiss chard, coarsely chopped
6 slices crusty whole wheat french bread
⅓ cup Asiago, grated
* Note: This recipe works best with freshly cooked pinto beans. To cook your own pinto beans, soak 1 cup dried beans overnight. Combine soaked beans and 10 cups water in a large pot. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for approximately 1 hour or until beans are tender. Drain and proceed with recipe.
In a large dutch oven or sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and garlic and saute for 3 minutes. Add beans, 5 cups water, and the next 7 ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 35 minutes. Add the chard and simmer an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Preheat boiler. Arrange bread slices on a baking sheet. Top evenly with Asiago and broil for 2 to 3 minutes or until bread is toasted and cheese is melted and browning. Slice toasted bread into squares. Ladle soup into bowls and top with cheese croutons. Makes 6 servings.
Where do you daydream about traveling to?