Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Garlic and White Bean Soup

Garlic is one of those miracle vegetables that is as close as you can get to a guarantee a dish will be good. I use vast quantities of the stuff.

Before it ever reached the kitchen it had been imbued with all manner of extraordinary properties throughout history. Garlic was worshipped by the ancient Egyptians, chewed by Greek Olympian atheletes and was (is!) thought to be essential for keeping vampires at bay. It can lower your cholesterol, cure your cold, get rid of acne and repel mosquitoes. It is a powerful antibiotic to which the body never builds up a resistance and is effective in protecting the body against damaging free radicals.

On top of such utter fabulousness it is an amazing thing to cook with. Depending on how you use it, it offers many variations on the flavour it adds. Raw crushed into salad dressings it is hot and pungent, boiled it is soft and gentle. Slow cooked in the oven with nothing but a dash of oil it squeezes out of its skins a rich and creamy paste. It is essential in stir fries and pasta sauce, and adds unctuousness to slow cooked stews. It fills the house with a glorious smell welcoming all who come to eat.

A wonderful thing, no? And it's not even expensive.

The following recipe is definitely a winter soup, it is creamy and filling and will protect you from the cold winter world outside. (And vampires.) It is an adaptation from one in Sundays at Moosewood.

Garlic & White Bean Soup
1 1/2 cups of cannellini beans, soaked overnight
4 pints water
1 whole head of garlic
In a little bit of muslin tie up 2 sprigs rosemary, 2 sprigs of thyme, 1/2 tspn fennel seeds, 4 cloves and a bay leaf - makes it easy to get it all out again
1 cup diced potato
1 cup finely chopped onions
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped carrot
100 ml of double cream
1 cup chopped parsley

Place the soaked beans in a pot with 2 pints of water and the head of garlic and bouquet garni in the muslin and simmer, uncovered, for one hour. Add the chopped potato and continue to simmer for another half an hour.

In a separate pan sauté the onions in the olive oil until translucent. Add the carrots and sauté for another 15 minutes. Add these to the bean with another two pints of water and simmer for another half an hour.

Allow to cool overnight.

Remove the bouquet garni and the garlic. Throw away the herbs but squeeze out the cloves of garlic into the soup. Purée the soup until smooth. Warm through, add seasoning and cream. Just before serving stir through the chopped parsley.

Perfect winter food. This makes enough for 8 generous bowls - if you don't fancy it two days running it freezes very well for an easy dinner another day with some crusty bread and perhaps a salad.

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