You might — or might not — know that around my own house I’m known as “The Soup Queen.” I’m proud of my moniker and after all these years of souping, I choose to believe I deserve it. I can make a fancy-schmancy soup, having bought every single ingredient for it at a certain expense (Let’s say a gorgeous seafood stew for Christmas Eve, for instance), but there’s also the very good chance I’ll look in the refrigerator and pantry to come up with dinner based on what just happens to be lying around looking sad and sorry. Folks who know me have probably had a pot or bowl of soup left on their doorstep at some time or another — maybe when they weren’t feeling up to snuff or when I had more soup than my freezer would hold. Others have shown up for a dinner party only to find two big pots of soup on the stove and a big basket of bread on the counter along with several bottles of my favorite wines. My friend Jean, who gets a little soup every week lately as she’s recovering from a back injury, likes to say, “Please keep me on your soup list!” It makes a woman feel good.
Today’s pot lies in between those two meals. There was a browning head of cauliflower our dog sitter didn’t eat while we traveled out of town for a funeral (yep, I’m late with posting this week), but there was a package of precious pancetta in my freezer simply waiting for its chance to make good on all the promises pancetta knows how to make, which are myriad. You might know pancetta (Italian “bacon” that is cured, but not smoked) from the lovely dish, Pasta Carbonara, which will grab you by the shoulders and make you eat it until it’s gone. There are lots of other things to make using this perfectly pleasing pork:
While I’ve made many cauliflower soups over the years, I knew if I added pancetta, this soup would be très spécial — very, very special. The cured pork, cooked to a crisp at the start of the soup (and removed to be used as a garnish later), sets the stage for flavor and gently envelops the first vegetables it touches. While American bacon might emerge as a main player in soup, pancetta simply provides the solid backbone to the dish, as well as adding a crispy-chewy garnish upon serving. So while it’s not a really inexpensive ingredient, its presence adds a value that makes it very worthwhile. And, hey, the rest of the soup is comprised of vegetables, so…it doesn’t add too terribly much cash to the grocery bill when you only need 2 ounces. But if you have bacon and can’t get pancetta, just use it — though you might want to boil it a couple of minutes to lose its smoky profile.
These days, vegetables are often sold cleaned and cut in plastic bags and if you’re in a hurry, you can grab a 2-pound bag of cauliflower florets as well as canned beans and some boxed chicken or vegetable broth for my vegetarian/vegan readers. (I made a pound of dry beans in the Instant Pot and used only 2 cups of them; scroll down below the recipe for instructions.) The printable recipe includes vegan options in italics. Other ways to speed up the prep/cooking process include throwing the raw vegetables into a food processor if you have one; you’ll save a lot of time and it’ll be easier on your hands. While I think the flavors of the soup are really improved by puréeing (and re-seasoning as needed), you can of course serve this chunky-style for those who like to see and chew what they’re eating! However you want to put it on the table, I hope you try this:
Cauliflower-White Bean Soup with Pancetta
- 2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) pancetta, cut into very small dice (omit for vegan version/can make croutons instead)
- 1 EACH, cut into small dice: medium yellow onion, small carrot, small stalk celery, plump clove garlic
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed between your fingers
- ½ cup dry white wine or broth or water
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 cup water
- A shake or two of Tabasco or other hot sauce
- 6 cups cauliflower florets, about 1 ½ pounds or a medium head of cauliflower
- 1 ½ – 2 cups cooked white beans (A 15-ounce can of beans=1 ½ cups)
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley
- 1- inch square of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind-optional/omit for vegan version
- Fresh chives, minced—for garnish (can sub fresh parsley)
- Heat oil for a minute over medium-high flame in an 8-quart soup pot; add pancetta. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes or until pancetta is crisp and cooked through. Remove pancetta to a small bowl and reserve, leaving fat in pot. Tip in the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic; season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper, and the rosemary. Sauté, stirring, until soft, 5-10 minutes. Pour in the ½ cup wine or broth and reduce heat to a simmer, cooking/stirring 2—3 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half.
- Pour in the 4 cups broth and 1 cup water along with the Tabasco. Cover and raise heat to bring to a boil. Add the cauliflower; cover and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 5 minutes and add the beans and parsley. Cook for another 15 minutes or until all the vegetables are very tender. Purée, if you like, (or serve chunky style) in pot using an immersion blender, or carefully in batches using a blender of food processor. Return to pot if needed and taste soup, adding salt and pepper or more Tabasco as necessary. Serve hot garnished with reserved cooked pancetta and chives.
- Store for 3-4 days well-covered in the refrigerator or for 4-6 months in the freezer. If reheating, you may need to add a little broth or water as the soup will thicken when chilled.
NOTES: I made my beans in my 6-quart Instant Pot as I had dried beans in the pantry, but not many canned beans. It’s an easy exercise. Rinse and pick over the beans. Pour into the Instant Pot with 5-6 cups water; 1 teaspoon kosher salt; 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper; 2 whole, peeled garlic cloves; and a sprig of fresh rosemary. (I didn’t soak the beans.) Pressure cook for about 30 minutes, using a natural pressure release. Taste a few beans to make sure they’re all done. If not, put the pressure valve back to “sealing” and cook the beans another 5-10 minutes. It’ll not take to long to get the pressure back up as the pot is still hot. Use a Quick Release for this second cooking. Taste and adjust seasonings. HINT: my beans were already seasoned when I put them into the soup pot with the cauliflower. You might try just a good sprinkle of salt and pepper and maybe even a pinch of rosemary in your canned beans if that’s what you’re using.
By the way, these beans are a nice meal in themselves with a drizzle of olive oil and bread or even topped with grilled shrimp if you’re flush. As I only needed 2 cups of beans, I have 3 – 4 cups left for another dinner, soup, or white bean hummus. I may just freeze them until I need them. It’s nice to be rich!
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.
Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts. . . .
There’s fennel for you, and columbines. There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me; we
may call it herb of grace o’Sundays. You must wear your rue with a difference. There’s a daisy. I would
give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end.”
william shakespeare (1564–1616)
hamlet, act 4, scene 5, lines 199-201; 204-209
Folger Library Edition
New York: Washington Square Press, 1992
WINE: A smooth white such as Grüner Veltliner, Chablis, or Pinot Gris.
SIDES: Crusty bread or sharp cheese and crisp wheat crackers. A salad if you’re starved.
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LIFE GOES ON:
above: We spent the last several days in Florida attending my nephew’s wife Brandie’s funeral and visiting with extended family. On the way back, driving out of the airport, I snapped a quick pic of antelope. In years past, we saw them often, but I haven’t seen them lately. Did my heart good. Way off to the left and top, you’ll see another two lying down in the distance.
above: While there, we stayed in a beach house rental, owned by another very kind nephew. Here’s our kitchen for a few days! If you’re interested in lovely and comfy, medium and large beach houses on Hutchinson Island (Stuart, FL), check out the website.
above: Really enjoyed seeing our family. It’s been a long year of Covid. Here I am with my niece, Shari. Love her 😉
As always, I’m so grateful for your presence in my life — especially like sharing my kitchen with you!
Enjoy each minute. Make soup, too,