“The importance of reading, for me, is that it allows you to dream.
Reading not only educates, but is relaxing and allows you to feed your imagination - creating beautiful pictures from carefully chosen words.”
― Eric Ripert
One of my very favorite Christmas gifts this year came from my sister, Mel. It is the book, Avec Eric, by Eric Ripert. Funny thing, because Mel has given me many of my favorite cookbooks. Maybe because she knows me better than almost anyone. We are only 15 months apart in age, so we were close growing up. I miss living near her and her kids. She has a way of listening to me and my problems (though sometimes
ridiculously inconsequential) in a nonjudgmental and very helpful way. She's the kind of person you can just talk to. A virtue quite handy for motherhood, I always thought. Her college age children have always been able to say anything to her. I mean really anything. As if they were speaking to a close, very loving friend. I admire this quality in her and always have. Thank you Mel for all of my Christmas gifts, and for being such a great sister and mother. And thanks for listening.
|The veg cooking on the left, on the right, the well seasoned beans|
Over the years I have seen Eric Ripert on various shows such as No Reservations, and Top Chef. It's been only quite recently that I have watched the PBS show, Avec Eric. The show follows Eric while he travels to different locations around the world experiencing different cultures' food and traditions. He then comes home and cooks up a meal reminiscent to one he has just encountered, in his home kitchen. It's really a beautiful show.
The cookbook is just as wonderful, if not more so. The book is full of gorgeous pictures, of food as well as locations of places that accompany the food. In the chapter including this Tuscan bean soup for example, there are photos of a villa in Tuscany, stories of foraging for mushrooms as well as hunting for wild boar with the local Italians.
|Bread cubes before being transformed into the greatest croutons of all time|
These are recipes I want to cook. Some easy, (like this one.) Some more challenging, including a recipe that calls for said wild boar that involves making your own pasta. I could even see myself cooking every recipe in this book. I'm up for the challenge. Not only of skill, but of sourcing the wild boar and other difficult to find ingredients. Don't let that scare you, though. There are plenty of recipes with easy to find components.
|Behold, the most wonderful croutons in the world.|
Let's talk about this soup. Easy and simple. But these simple ingredients are well placed and well executed to create a very flavorful, delicious soup, in about an hours time. It's simple steps that most home cooks (myself included) overlook that make the difference. For example, in cooking the beans it calls for a whole tablespoon of salt. Seems like a lot of salt for a small amount of beans, but the end result is well, highly seasoned beans that are not at all salty. They pair well with the homemade chicken stock, that has little salt.
The soup is garnished with homemade croutons. These are the best darn croutons I've ever had in my life. I used some great, hearty sourdough bread, (he calls for some crusty Italian bread) (I'm sure the great bread helped) but I've made croutons before, though never this good. I loved taking a spoonful of soup with a crouton in it while it was still crunchy. Croutons in soup isn't something I usually think of outside of French onion soup. It's a nice touch. These are croutons I will definately be making again, perhaps next week in a salad. Thank you, Eric. I'm a better cook already because of you.
This isn't his recipe exactly, it is my riff on it. I used ham, he calls for prosciutto. etc. I've made a few changes, but with Eric's tutelage I managed to create quite a memorable soup.
Tuscan Bean Soup
inspired by Eric Ripert's recipe in Avec Eric
3/4 cup (145 g. or 5 oz. raw) dried white beans such as cannellini, white kidney beans or great northern beans or you can also use one 15 oz. can of canned beans, rinsed and drained
1 Tablespoon fine sea salt
1 cup (8 oz.) diced ham
4-6 cups homemade chicken broth- if using purchased broth, make sure it's low in salt, in a carton preferably
2 carrots, diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
a small bunch of kale, sliced crosswise into one inch ribbons
3 plum tomatoes-seeded, cored and roughly chopped
2 thyme sprigs
3 Tablespoons chopped parsley- Italian preferably, (but I used curly because that's what looked best from my garden)
1 piece of Parmesan cheese rind, approx. 3 inches in size
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 loaf crusty sourdough bread, cut into 1 inch pieces
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
The night before making soup, soak the dried beans in a bowl covered in water (don't add salt) by 4 inches or so. (The beans will absorb some of the water.)
Drain the beans and place them in a medium pan covered in water. season the water with the 1 Tablespoon of salt. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer on low till beans are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain off most of the cooking liquid, reserving about 2 cups of water with the beans.
Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat the olive oil to medium high heat and add the carrots, celery and onion and cook until lightly caramelized, about 6-8 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and ham and cook a few minutes more. Add the chicken broth (start with 4 cups, add more later if it needs it, mine did) beans with their 2 cups of liquid, tomatoes, kale, parsley and Parmesan cheese rind. Pull the leaves off the thyme sprigs and add them. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, 190 degrees Celsius, Gas Mark 5.
While the soup is cooking, make the croutons. Place the diced bread in a bowl and generously drizzle with olive oil. Add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and toss. Place on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes then use some tongs and toss them, then bake for another 5-15 minutes more, until they are golden brown and crispy.
Taste your soup. Add salt and pepper. Taste again. Add more broth if it needs it.
Place soup in bowl and top with some croutons and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.