Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Bean and Barley Soup

Bron says bean, barley and bacon broth is brilliant when the weather is bleak. Autumn is here, the light is going, the rain seems set to stay. This particular soup, which takes a little while to cook, makes you feel, as you eat it, that someone kind is gently rubbing your back and massaging the tensions from your shoulders. It really is that good.

The beans I used are haricot tarbais - probably unavailable in London but a local treasure in the Gers in France. Grown in the Bigorre region at the foot of the Pyrenees they are still cultivated in the traditional manner growing up stems of corn and picked by hand. They are a flattish kidney shaped bean, creamy white in colour and light and creamy when cooked. Use borlotti beans in their place, or cannellini beans.

This recipe is a conflation of various others as a way of using some ingredients I had. Having just poached a chicken for lunches I had fresh stock and I wanted to cook the beans before they got old and dry and too too chewy. Mixed with the basic idea of french/italian peasant soups it is really a great soup for cold nights. Cooking the barley with the smoked bacon flavours the grain which, when added to the rest of the soup, gives it texture. Use this as a template rather than following it exactly.

Bean & Barley Soup

150g/5oz dried cqnnellini or borlotti beans, soaked overnight in cold water
1 medium potato, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
Bouquet garni of bay leaf, parsley, sage, rosemary and celery leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
125g/4oz pearl barley
150g/5oz smoked bacon, chopped into 1cm/1/2inch pieces
1 litre/1 1/2pints fresh chicken stock

Drain and rinse the beans and put them into a heavy based pot. Add all the vegetables, the herbs and garlic. Add the stock, bring to a simmer and cook, covered for 2 hours at the lowest heat.

Rinse the barley under cold water then put it into another pan with the bacon and cover with a litre of cold water. Bring to the boil, skim then simmer for about an hour.

Discard the bouquet garni from the beans and, using a slotted spoon, take out half the beans. Puree the rest of the soup base, return the beans to the pan and add the barley/bacon with their liquid. Mix well, adjust the seasoning and simmer for 10 minutes. If it is too thick, add a little more stock or water.

Serve in large bowls, with bread to mop it all up.

This makes enough for 6 big bowls, but will freeze well in smaller batches for instant dinner another night.

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