Once you’ve made a soup with the classic base of carrots, celery and onions, it’s very difficult to go back to any other style. I love a creamy soup, and a spicy one but this base makes something better, something which is more of a meal and, dare I say it, more, well, professional. It takes a bit of planning and work although you could speed it up, in this case, by using tinned chickpeas, and you do need fresh herbs. But the difference is remarkable.
If you’re not a fan of chickpeas (and I’m not really, except for a few exceptions) then the Locatelli book that this comes from has other recipes using borlotti and cannellini beans. The common denominator is soaking the beans, cooking them with herbs (all unnecessary if you use tinned though, if you do, I’d suggest shoving in a few more fresh herbs) then making a very fast soup with the cooked beans, a mirepoix (a mix of chopped celery, onions and carrots), tomato purée, stock, herbs and something salty like bacon or pancetta. If you can be bothered with the prep, the reward is better than anything out of a fancy plastic tub.
For two decent-sized bowls you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
garlic cloves, 2
carrot, 1 small
white onion, ½
tomato purée, 1 dessertspoon or 2 teaspoons
good olive oil (the sort you’d dip bread into)
sea salt and black pepper
dried chickpeas, 125g (or half a 400g tin; if you use these you’ll need to add about 500ml of vegetable stock to the list)
a couple of celery stalks
a couple of decent sprigs of fresh rosemary
a couple of small bunches of fresh sage
75g pancetta or smoked streaky bacon, cut into small pieces (optional)
How to (jump to stage 3 if you’re using tinned chickpeas)
1. Soak the beans overnight in cold water (leave them at room temperature; don’t put them in the fridge).
2. The next day drain the beans of their soaking water, then tip them into a large pan with double their volume of fresh water. Peel and chop the garlic cloves, rinse and chop a celery stalk and add them to the pot with the bay leaf, a small bunch of sage, a sprig of rosemary and a tablespoon of olive oil. Cover, bring to the boil, turn the heat down and simmer until soft (try one rather than trusting a fork). You may need to add more water if it looks like the liquid will boil dry. (Once cooked, if you aren’t going to use them straightaway, they can be left to cool and then stored in the fridge for a couple of days, covered in their pan with the cooking water until needed. Don’t stick your finger into the pan or you’ll introduce all the bacteria from your skin into that lovely stock…)
3. Spoon the cooked chickpeas out of their liquid into a bowl, but keep the liquid. If using tinned, drain and rinse them and make up about 500ml of vegetable stock.
4. Peel and chop the carrot, onions and the rest of the celery and, if using, cut the pancetta or bacon into small pieces.
5. Heat some olive oil in a large pan, add the chopped carrot, celery and onions and half the pancetta/bacon. Throw in some extra rosemary or sage at this point if using tinned chickpeas. Cook on a low heat until soft but not coloured.
6. Add the tomato purée and three-quarters of the chickpeas (keep the rest on one side for adding whole later) then cook for another ten minutes. Blend until you have a smooth paste.
7. Return to the pan and add some of the beans’ cooking liquid or vegetable stock until it has a soupy consistency (obviously that may be thicker or thinner depending on your taste). Bring back to the boil and add the remaining whole beans. Turn it down to a simmer.
8. If you are using pancetta/bacon, dry fry the remainder of this now until crispy. Drain on kitchen paper. If you like crispy sage leaves (and I do) you might want to fry a couple of these in olive oil too for garnish.
9. Season the soup with sea salt, ground pepper, a zig-zag of olive oil, the remaining sage (either fried or not), some rosemary leaves chopped into small pieces and the crispy pancetta/bacon.