These delicate little legumes are an heirloom variety called yellow Indian woman beans from Lonesome Whistle Farm. Since we'd been battling flu-like symptoms in our household, I was inspired to make a soup with them. Also, I'd been chatting with my sister about soups and she'd extolled the virtues of bacon in minestrone, which got me thinking about noodle soups and why I don't cook more of them.
When I make a pot of soup, I want it to last for days, the flavor deepening with each reheating, but when noodles are a part of the mix they become flaccid by the second day, seeping up the broth like inebriated dinner guests who have overstayed their welcome. It occurred to me that I could keep the noodles well behaved by serving them a la mode, just like a garnish of chopped herbs. Which got me thinking about combining the fresh chopped herbs with the noodles on the side. And so I made this soup with a rich base of bacon, caramelized onions and cabbage, and slow cooked beans, and finished it with a dollop of bright pesto-coated orzo. The soup improved with each reheating, the orzo stayed fresh and firm, and it doubled as the main course for certain soup-averse people at the table.
Yellow Indian Woman Bean Soup with Pesto Orzo
for the soup
1 cup yellow Indian woman beans (or substitute navy beans)
1 rosemary sprig
2 slices bacon, cut into 1/4 inch strips
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion
1/2 regular-sized or 1 small cabbage
14 ounce can chopped tomatoes
~2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
salt to taste
for pesto orzo
1/2 lb orzo
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup whole almonds
2 ounces pecorino romano or parmesan cheese
1 cup combination of Italian parsley and basil leaves (or just use one or the other)
1/4 cup olive oil
salt to taste
1. If you remember, soak your beans overnight. Drain (or rinse unsoaked beans) and combine with 6 cups of water (7 if unsoaked), rosemary and a pinch of salt. Cook at a very slow simmer until tender, about 90 minutes for fresh beans. Remove the rosemary sprig and generously salt the bean pot to taste. Allow to cool, then drain the bean broth into a large measuring cup or pitcher and reserve the beans. For this recipe, I used all of the broth and I saved some of the cooked beans for other uses, but if you like your soup to be dense with beans, you can use all of them in the soup.
2. Peel and dice the onion. Cut the cabbage into quarters, slice out the the core, then halve again lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thin slices.
3. Heat a large, heavy soup over medium heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook, stirring, until they are browned and have released their fat. Remove the bacon pieces with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the olive oil to the rendered bacon fat. Lower the heat to medium low and add the onions. Cook until very soft, but avoid browning. Now add the cabbage, stir to coat, and continue cooking over medium low heat in a covered pot, stirring frequently, until the cabbage is very soft and the onions have caramelized. This will take about 20 to 30 minutes and will build up a rich smoky, sweet base for your soup.
4. Now add the canned tomatoes, the broth from your bean pot (should be about 4 cups), and enough stock to dilute your cabbage to a desired thickness (remembering that there will be more things added to the pot.) Simmer on low for about an hour to meld the flavors.
5. When you are about 40 minutes from serving the soup, peel the carrots, cut them lengthwise, and then slice them widthwise into 1/4 inch thick half moons. Add them to the pot. Set a pot of salted water heating for the orzo.
6. Prepare the pesto. In a dry skillet, heat the unpeeled garlic cloves until they are soft and blackened in spots. Transfer them to a cutting board to cool before peeling. Put the whole almonds in the hot skillet and toast until they are fragrant, but don't let them burn. Combine the almonds, peeled garlic cloves, and the cheese in the bowl of a food processor and chop coarsely. Wash the parsley and basil leaves and add to the food processor. Blend while pouring in the olive oil until it is a fairly smooth paste. Taste and add salt or more olive oil to taste.
7. When the water is boiling, add the orzo and cook until just al dente. At the same time, add the desired amount of beans to your soup pot. If necessary, thin the soup a little with more broth. Taste and adjust seasoning. When the orzo is cooked, toss it with the pesto in a serving bowl. Serve the soup and pass the pesto orzo for people to add to their bowls. The next day, reheat the soup pot and warm the pesto orzo in a microwave and serve again. Enjoy.