I'm a big fan of dried beans. They're cheap, easy (though time-consuming) to make, and, with the right spices, so delicious. When our church's youth group decided to have a soup lunch fundraiser, I found this yummy dried-bean recipe and made it as my contribution. Like most bean soups, it's better if you can make it the day before and refrigerate it overnight. Really melds those flavors.
This recipe comes from Cooks Illustrated, one of my favorite cooking publications ever. If you haven't checked it out, definitely do.
6 oz pancetta, one 1-inch-thick slice, cut into 1" cubes (can also use bacon instead of pancetta, or, to make it vegetarian, omit the meat and replace with a 4-ounce piece of parmesan rind.)
1 lb dried cannellini beans, rinsed and picked over (can substitute Great Northern beans if you can't find cannellinis)
1 large onion, unpeeled and halved pole to pole, plus 1 small onion, diced medium
4 medium unpeeled garlic cloves, plus 3 medium peeled garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
Salt and ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Balsamic vinegar, for serving
In large, heavy-bottomed stock pot, cook pancetta over medium heat until just golden, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add 12 cups of water, beans, halved onion, unpeeled garlic, bay leaf, and 1 tsp salt; bring to boil over medium-high heat. Cover pot partially; reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are almost tender, 1 to 1 h1/4 hours.
Remove beans from heat, cover, and let stand until beans are tender, about 30 minutes.
Reserve the cooking liquid as you drain the beans, keeping five cups of the liquid for the soup. If you have extra, save it for adding to another soup. If you don't have enough, add some water.
Toss out the cooked pancetta, onion, garlic, and bay leaf. You might have to fish out some of the onion skins, too. Spread the beans in even layer on baking sheet to cool.
While the beans are cooling, heat oil in your heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until shimmering; add diced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 to 6 minutes. Reduce heat and stir in minced garlic , cooking for about 30 seconds.
Add cooled beans and cooking liquid; increase heat to medium-high and bring to simmer. Remove from heat. Submerge rosemary sprig in liquid, cover and let infuse for 15 to 20 minutes. Throw away the rosemary sprig and season to taste with salt and pepper. For an authentic dish, toast pieces of crusty bread, place them in the bottom of the bowl, and ladle soup over it. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, and serve, passing balsamic vinegar separately.