- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2004

La dolce vita at home? Why not? A light Italian dinner, centering on a hearty bowl of soup, is the perfect way to bring the languid, romantic Italian approach to a late-spring meal. My recipe for Tuscan bean soup features white beans and green beans in a seasoned broth.

There are several varieties of white beans available. Great Northern beans work really well, but you can also use the smaller white pea beans. Unlike thicker bean soups, this one calls for cooking the beans until just tender so they remain distinct and can float in the broth, rather than merge with it.

Make sure the beans are soaked and cooked well ahead of time. (This can be done up to several days in advance.) The entire soup can be made a day ahead and reheats well. Just be sure to add the Parmesan and parsley to each bowl right at serving time.

A nice way to prepare Parmesan for the top is to shave it in thin, flat, wide strips with a vegetable peeler.

Here’s your Italian menu: Tuscan bean soup, baked marinated eggplant (bake thin slices until soft, then marinate them in olive oil, garlic, herbs and a drizzle of red wine vinegar), and fresh fruit that has been sprinkled with sugar and a few drops of a good balsamic vinegar. Very Italian.

Tuscan bean soup

1 cups dry white beans

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cups minced onion

1 tablespoon dried basil

2 stalks celery, diced

2 medium-sized carrots, diced

1 teaspoons salt

pound fresh green beans, cut in 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoons minced garlic

6 scallions, minced

1 quart vegetable broth

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper

Parmesan cheese and minced parsley for the top

Soak the beans in enough water to cover for several hours or overnight. Cook in simmering fresh water (not the soaking water) until just tender (about 1 to 1 hours). Drain, if necessary, and set aside.

Place a kettle or Dutch oven over medium heat for several minutes.

Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add onion, basil, celery, carrots and teaspoon salt, and saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Add the green beans, garlic and scallions, then cover and turn the heat down to low. Cook for another 10 minutes.

Add broth and the cooked beans, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer, then cover and cook 20 minutes longer.

Add remaining salt, lemon juice and black pepper to taste. Serve hot, topped with Parmesan and parsley.

Makes 5 to 6 servings.

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