So apparently not everyone in the world loves soup.
I know, right? What's going on here, people? How can one not love a class of foods as versatile and nourishing and adaptable and downright kicky as soup?
Apparently, once again, soup is not "hearty" enough for some people. These are probably the sort of people who happily describe themselves as "meat and potatoes" eaters, which I can respect–I'll say yes to a nice rare hanger steak and a Rhode Island-sized dollop of mashed potatoes pretty much any time. But just 'cause you love the one doesn't mean you can't mess around with the other.
This is a soup for convincing non-soup eaters. It's big, hearty, flavorful and extremely satisfying. (Especially when served, as we did, with crostini smeared with Brie. Why the heck not? This meal already wasn't winning any low-fat prizes… might as well take it all the way.) And, of course, if you're already a committed soup eater, this soup is just a nice rich scrumptious wintertime bonus. If you're a vegetarian, though, this is pretty much right out… sorry. More veg options coming soon.
Bean and Bacon Soup
Serves six, generously
1/2 pound small white beans (navy beans)
5 cups water
1/2 pound high-quality, thick-sliced, nitrate-free bacon–since basically the whole soup's going to taste like bacon, this is not the place to cheap out with that vile Farmhouse 3-for-$5 Safeway special–tidily diced into 1/4" cubes
2 medium onions, chopped
2 large stalks of celery, chopped–if you like, save the leaves for the optional bouquet garni
Optional Bouquet Garni: a few sprigs of parsley, a few celery leaves if you don't have fresh thyme or bay leaves on hand, which I didn't for some reason, and perhaps one or two small dried chiles, tied together in a bit of cheesecloth or a bit of string
4 cups chicken broth
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 tsp salt (to start)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Drunken Angel hot sauce or other thick hot sauce of your choice–optional but highly recommended
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Soak the beans: Combine beans and 5 cups water in a soup pot. Bring to a boil. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand 1 hour before draining. (I don't usually soak beans, per Mark Bittman, but since the beans need to get ultra-soft in this soup, I made an exception in this case.)
In a different soup pot, or the same one, cook bacon over medium-low heat to desired degree of crispness. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain thoroughly on absorbent paper. Pour off all but 2 Tbsp of bacon fat.
Heat bacon fat over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring, until onion is translucent. Add broth, tomato sauce, two-thirds of bacon, salt and optional bouquet garni. Bring just to a boil. Cover, turn down heat as low as it will go and simmer for two full hours. Your house will begin to smell delectable during this time (as if the delectable smell of frying bacon weren't enough).
When beans are very, very tender, remove soup from heat. Fish out the bouquet garni, which will look seriously sad and tired at this point. Using an immersion blender, puree half the soup (you can do this effectively in the pot–just go until the soup looks about half-blended). Or, transfer half the solids and a cup or so of broth to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth; return puree to pot.
Whisk black pepper and hot sauce into soup. Heat through. Taste and correct seasoning–if you're not using a very salty bacon, it may well need more salt. Undersalted beans are not fit food for anyone.
Stir in parsley and serve garnished with reserved crispy bacon cubelets.