serves: 6 servings
Every region of Italy has a fagioli (bean) soup, often quite filling, with potatoes and pork and either pasta or rice. Interestingly, it was in Trentino-Alto Adige, renowned for the heartiness of its soups, that I had this unexpectedly light bean soup, cooked with fresh apples and delicately spiced. It is vegetarian (also unusual), nourishing, and quite scrumptious. The combination of apples and beans is marvelous, and one of the pleasing features of this recipe is that simply by using less water you can make a great bean-and-apple side dish, a perfect accompaniment to roast pork, duck, or ham.
½ pound dried cannellini beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 pounds Golden Delicious apples
6 tablespoons butter
4 whole cloves
8 cups water, hot
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Start by draining the soaked beans, then put the soaked beans in a pot with the bay leaf and fresh cold water to cover by an inch or so. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to keep the liquid simmering steadily, and cook, partially covered, about 40 minutes, or until the beans are cooked through but not mushy. Turn off the heat, stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, and let the beans cool for a while in the pot, absorbing some of the cooking liquid.
To make the soup, peel and core the apples, and cut them in 1/4-inch thick slices. Put 4 tablespoons of the butter in the heavy saucepan, and set it over medium heat. As soon as the butter melts, scatter the apple slices in the bottom and drop in the cloves.
Cook the apples for 3 minutes, or until they begin to soften, turning and stirring them gently. Drain the cooked beans, and add them to the pan, then pour in the hot water-all 8 cups if you're making soup; 6 cups to make a side dish with thicker consistency. Turn up the heat, and stir in the lemon zest, cinnamon, and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.
Cover the pan, bring the liquid to a boil, then set the cover ajar and lower the heat to keep the soup bubbling gently. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until the apples are completely soft and the liquid has the consistency you like for soup (or cook longer for a side dish). Turn off the heat, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and serve.