january 14, 2017
Last weekend Richmond enjoyed the first snow day of winter. The silence was magical and holiday decorations still up were given the seal of authenticity with caps of fluffy snow and dangling icicles. Snowmen appeared as kids and grownups alike frolicked in yards and parks. Snow ice cream recipes were traded and the desserts were devoured and pronounced the best ever because it was so very cold.
It was the kind of cold when gloves are needed, scarves are wrapped tightly around our necks, hats are necessary and you can see your breath in short puffs of steam as you hustle into the grocery store to find the last of the bread and milk. Yankees among you will laugh at our childlike wonder with the first sign of snowflakes, our insistence on closing institutions both major and minor until the blizzard passes, our rhapsodizing of all things snow and our (apparent) inability to navigate by automobile on snowy roads.
But enough about the winter weather, of which I am very fond, and more about snow day comfort foods. In my home growing up, there was frequently a pot of beans on the stove, usually navy beans, and my Southern mom made them taste good even in an unadorned state. “Just a little salt” was all she would say when I would press for why they tasted so, so good. Occasionally we would find a ham hock swimming in the bean pot, but generally my mother would make a simple, sustaining pot of beans which we would enjoy as lunch, dinner, and occasionally when I came home from college, a late breakfast.
As a traveling adult, I learned that folks in the deep south liked their beans topped with chopped raw onion. I grew to like this, and although I never see this trend in my part of central Virginia, I honor that tradition today with a creamy bowl of slow cooked white beans topped with a relish of shallot, capers, pink peppercorns and pine nuts. This relish is colorful and crunchy and will seem more at home on a southern European menu than on the chalkboard of your neighborhood home cookin’ joint, but Southern cuisine and the Mediterranean diet have much in common, in that vegetables reign supreme. We may cook our veggies until we are sure they will not move off the plate (hello, collard greens cooked for hours and hours!), but we do love beans and greens. The cabbage in today’s soup is shredded and long-cooked with the beans, but you’ll know it’s there because of the added sweetness.
If you use dried beans that are fresh (not old and dried out, but rather from a purveyor with high turnover like Rancho Gordo), soaking overnight may not be necessary. I like creamy beans, so I do a brief presoak by bringing the beans and water to boil and allowing a one hour soak before cooking. Salt is added at the end so that the beans remain tender, as salting early in the process may inhibit proper breakdown of fiber. The beans improve with age, so making ahead up to five days will make life easier for meal planning. The relish may also be made ahead up to a week or so; the olive oil will be too viscous straight from the fridge, so allow it to sit at room temp while the soup heats up if all is made ahead of time.
White Bean and Cabbage Soup
makes six servings
caper pine nut relish
2 tablespoons finely minced shallot
3 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
directions : in small bowl, mix all ingredients and chill until ready to use (up to one week ahead), but allow to settle at room temp 20-30 minutes before serving so olive oil softens
one pound dried white beans, any kind ( I like Rancho Gordo brand; alubia blanca used in this recipe)
one medium sweet onion, finely chopped
1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ head small green cabbage, shredded
6 cups best quality vegetable stock
fine sea salt and white pepper
- In heavy four quart pot, cover rinsed beans with water, bring to boil, then allow pot to sit, covered, for one hour.
- Drain beans and set aside.
- In same pot, rinsed and dried, stir together onion with olive oil over medium heat; when mixture begins to sizzle, turn heat to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion becomes translucent and begins to soften, about 7-8 minutes, adjusting heat so onion does not brown.
- Add beans, cabbage and stock. Bring to boil, give a good stir, then simmer over low heat, covered, until tender, about 45-60 minutes depending on the beans.
- I like to stir occasionally for a creamer bean soup.
- When tender, season to taste with salt and pepper,
- Serve immediately, or wait a couple days since flavor improves with age.
- Top each serving with a generous spoon of the caper pine nut relish.