It’s hard to beat the rustic simplicity of a nice bean soup and this Tuscan White Bean Soup in the slow cooker is simple but bursting with flavor. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get this type of dish wrong, especially in the slow cooker. If you don’t prep your beans well and balance the flavor of the broth, it’s just mushy beans in a watery base. But this recipe, inspired by the crew at America’s Test Kitchen, is neither of those fails. The soup looks beautiful, tastes robust, and is easy to get right by taking a few steps to ensure exceptional flavor.
Start with dried beans for full flavor and texture (I include a fool-proof method for soaking the beans to ensure they don’t split and so the skin is soft, not chewy). Then for the base, a good helping of minced pancetta yum!, onions, garlic and red pepper flakes provide a complex balance with a hint of smoke. These ingredients help flavor the broth as well as the beans. If you can get a nice hunk of Parmesan rind to use in this dish, do it. The Parm rind isn’t critical, but I prefer it. It helps the flavors play well together in the broth. Last, a fresh sprig of Rosemary is essential, but equally important is to make sure not to add the Rosemary until the end of cooking or it overpowers and becomes bitter.
Even with slow cooker meals, prep work is essential before dumping everything in for the pot to work its magic (that is, if you want it to really taste delicious). So, the night before, while you’re prepping your beans to soak, a time-saving tip to get this going effortlessly the next morning; pre-mince your pancetta, onions and garlic. The next morning, you need a few minutes to saute’ the base, rinse the beans and place everything in the pot. Your house will smell wonderful, and a few accompaniments will make a hearty meal.
Speaking of accompaniments, some crusty bread is nearly as important as the soup and we like to toast some soft French bread, brush it with olive oil and then rub fresh garlic on the top, and crack a dash of black pepper on there too. A bouquet of mixed olives and a nice tossed salad…simple but full flavors that are anything but dull. Tuscan White Bean Soup in the slow cooker is filling and comforting. And last but not least…
…some Parmesan Reggiano grated over the soup at serving will make a good thing only perfect.
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
- 6 ounces pancetta, minced
- 3 medium onions, minced
- 8 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
- 4 cups water
- 1 pound dried great Northern or cannellini beans (approx 2½ cups)
- 1 Parmesan cheese rind (optional but flavorful)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 fresh rosemary sprig
- Salt and pepper
- Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
- First soak the dried beans in salt water: (salt tenderizes the otherwise tough and chewy bean skins). Use one of the following methods:
- Overnight Salt-Soaking Method: Pick through and rinse the beans. For every pound of beans, dissolve 2 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts cold water. Combine the beans and salt water in a large container and let the beans soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain the beans, discarding the soaking liquid, and rinse well before cooking.
- Quick Salt-Soaking Method: Pick through and rinse the beans. For every pound of beans, dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 2 quarts boiling water. Combine the beans and hot salt water in a large pot and let the beans soak at room temperature for 1 hour. Drain the beans, discarding the soaking liquid, and rinse well before cooking.
- Make the soup:
- Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add pancetta and cook until lighly browned and crisp, about 8 minutes. Stir in onions, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until onions are softened and lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of broth, scraping up browned bits, if any: transfer to slow cooker.
- Stir remaining 3 cups broth, water, soaked beans, Parmesan rind (if using), and bay leaves into slow cooker. Cover and cook until beans are tender, 9 to 10 hours on low or 5 to 6 hours on high. Cook's reminder: Do not add rosemary sprig yet. Adding in at this point will result in overpowering rosemary flavor.
- At end of cooking time, add rosemary sprig, cover, and cook on high until rosemary is fragrant, about 15 minutes. Discard rosemary, bay leaves, and Parmesan rind. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with grated Parmesan and additional olive oil, if desired.
- Cook's note: At the end of cooking but before you add the Rosemary, if you want more broth, feel free to add up to one cup of water to the soup.