Thursday, September 7, 2006
Bean Soup: Served Here, There, Everywhere, With Variations
By ROGER M. GRACE
Bean soup, an ancient dish, is widely served across the globe, with a myriad of variations.
The concept that bean soup is bean soup is bean soup, no matter the type or size of the beans, was stated by a witness in a case in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in 1938. The issue was whether natural gas should have been subjected to a tax placed on crude petroleum. According to the witness, there was “no definite, clear-cut line where one [type of gas] can be separated from another.” He provided this analogy:
“You might say, for illustration, that you have a bowl of bean soup. In that bowl of soup you might have three navy beans, five lima beans, and 300 of other kinds of beans. It will still be bean soup, however.”
(Er, was it indelicate here to mention “gas” in connection with beans?)
All that the variations on bean soup necessarily have in common is that beans (pre-soaked, canned, or fresh) be boiled with other ingredients, usually including pork.
My wife, Jo-Ann, and I sometimes cook a soup (overnight and through the next day) comprised of ham hocks, onions, garlic, and pre-soaked great northern beans (white beans larger than navy beans). That’s but a slight variation on the recipe for traditional U.S. Senate bean soup (made from navy beans, ham hocks, oniuons, and butter).
In taking a look at some of Jo-Ann’s cookbooks, I see a recipe in “Cooking Estonian Style” similar to the one we (and the Senate dining rooms) use—except that it also includes carrots and barley, and the soup is garnished with light cream or sour cream.
Sour cream is also added to bab leves, an Hungarian bean soup made with paprika and vinegar and thickened with flour. Any L.A. Superior Court judge angling for particular assignment next year might be well advised to send a Thermos filled with bab leves to incoming Presiding Judge Steven Czuleger. (Should Judge-Elect Lynn Olson be reading this…she’ll probably send over some soup with toasted-bagel croutons on top.)
A dollop of sour cream is also splattered on black bean soup, served in Latin America and the Southwest U.S.
Italians love beans and, most assuredly, relish pasta. They combine them in “pasta and bean”—or “pasta e fagioli”—soup.
A 1988 book, “A Tuscan in the Kitchen,” includes these ingredients in the dish: black pepper, cannellini beans, wine, red onions, beef or chicken broth, fresh rosemary, and tubettini pasta (a small tubular pasta). When it’s served, olive oil is splashed on top.
Minestrone is generally thought of in the U.S. as a vegetable soup containing beans and pasta. Actually, according to “The Cuisine of Venice and Surrounding Northern Regions” (1978), “minestrone literally means ‘the first big course’.” The book notes that “[n]ot only does every region of Italy have at least one minestrone ‘tipico’ which it claims as its very own, but every cook has his or her own way of making it.”
The book has a recipe of a “typical” minestrone from Florence which includes pancetta (an air-dried Italian bacon), tomatoes, fresh white beans, cabbage, and elbow macaroni. A Milanese recipe, by contrast, incorporates rice and salt pork, but there’s no mention of beans or pasta. Two of the recipes include fresh white beans or cranberry beans and pork skins.
Another of Jo-Ann’s cookbooks, “Flavors of Italy” (1986) has a minestrone recipe relying on “unshelled fresh lima beans,” while “Northern Italian Cooking,” published in 1973, offers a recipe from Genoa featuring kidney beans cooked in red wine.
A recipe for German bean soup (bohnensuppe) appears in the 1959 edition of “German Cooking.” It includes white beans and derives flavor from bacon trimmings, as well as meat extract.
Just last Saturday, Jo-Ann and I bought a 1967 book, “The Complete Bean Cookbook,” at an antique store called “Grace’s Estate” in Redondo Beach. To digress…the Grace who is referenced is not a decedent, and is no relation of this writer. She’s a delightful 3-year-old mixed-breed black dog. It seems that the offspring of the homo sapien owner of the shop don’t have an interest in the old stuff contained there, so it will go to Grace, an erstwhile boarder at a rescue shelter.
The book we procured for $10 features 39 pages of bean soup recipes. These include recipes for a Spanish black bean soup garnished with “an egg slice and lemon slice in each bowl” and a topping of “whipped cream blended with Sherry”; a Portugese soup made with red kidney beans, potatoes, bacon fat, and tomato paste; a Cuban soup prepared with a ground mixture of peeled lima beans, almonds and garlic; and “old-fasioned bean soup, Idaho style,” with heavy cream.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company
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