Winter makes me want to hibernate, and part of that is falling in love with soups. I love bean soups and find them to be the easiest to do, with the least amount of fuss. This recipe makes enough for at least 6 servings (if not more) but can be halved or quartered easily. I like to make the full recipe and freeze for a later dinner.
If you purchase Parmesan that's fresh you should save your rinds (once you've grated all you can!! ) and freeze them for when you make soups and stocks. Just scrape the labeling off (the part that gives you a clue if its authentic... you should see the words "Parmigiano-Reggiano" on the side of the cheese. ) and place into your soup or stock. This is an old family method, and I've seen many of the greats use this technique as well.
I found the 17 bean soup mix (which is really beans in a bag) from Trader Joe's, but you can find this in any grocery store. For this soup, like most others, I used a Mirepoix as the base. A Mirepoix is the French name for a combination of onions, celery and carrots. Mirepoix, either raw, roasted or sauteed with butter is the flavor base for a wide number of dishes such as stocks, soups, stews and sauces. Mirepoix is known as the Holy Trinity of French cuisine.
3 c 17 bean soup mix
1/3 lb of center cut bacon, diced (See Cooks Note below)
1 c each, onions, carrots and celery, or Mirepoix
1 28 oz can of diced tomato's
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp dried Italian herbs (I used a mix of oregano, basil and thyme)
2 tbsp salt and freshly ground pepper
1 leftover rind of Parmesan cheese, with the label scrapped off
2 tbsp olive oil
6 cups of quality vegetable broth or stock
Empty beans into a large pot and cover with cold water. Let beans soak over night.
The following day, drain the beans completely and give them a good rinse with cold water. In a large, heavy bottom soup pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Cook the bacon until crisp and remove from pan. (*** Cooks note: This can be omitted all together for my vegetarian friends... I just did it for some flavor boost!****) Add mirepoix and saute for about 7 minutes. Season with 1 tbsp salt and pepper, and add herbs and bay leaves. Saute another 2 minutes, and add beans. Cook the vegetable and bean mix for about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the broth and the Parmesan cheese rind, and simmer covered for about 2 hours.
Serve immediately with a piece of warm crusty bread, or freeze and enjoy on another day.