A Good Soak

Two things: soaking beans makes for a nice New Year's metaphor* and it's soup country at 33 Kent street.

Dried, colorless, crunchy pebbles slowly, gently, even quietly become soft, round, flavorful packs of protein.  They are rejuvenated.  They are reborn.  You could even say they go through their own little renaissance through a good soak.

*(with apologies to all black-eyed pea soakers on 12/30)

And so it was with this observation that I charged into winging a Tuscan Bean soup dish that I recently had at Michael White's Osteria Morini.  His version was probably made with veal stock.  And I imagine his had some magical Italian pixie dust sprinkled into it while mine is much more every-day-kitchen friendly.  Plus, mine only takes roughly 3 hours while his may take an army of kitchen staff, days on end, and maybe countless ingredients.  And probably some slaughtering involved.

The healthy-hearty result and very easy recipe follows.

Tuscan Barley and Bean Soup

Yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings

1 cup dried cannelloni beans
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzling
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 celery rib, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 lb. Italian chicken sausage, finely chopped
1 qt. chicken stock
6 cups water
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
10 fresh sage leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup whole-grain barley
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1.5 oz. Demi-Glace Gold™ (closest thing to pixie dust)
1/4 cup half and half

Pick over and rinse beans. Soak in cold water to cover by 2 inches at least 8 hours and up to 12 hours. Alternatively, quick-soak beans(see note). Drain well.

Heat oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion, carrots, celery, and garlic, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 10 minutes. Add sausage.  Cook through, 5 minutes. Stir in chicken stock and water, sage, parsley, and thyme and bring to a boil.  Slowly add the beans and then reduce heat and cook at a bare simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary to keep beans covered, until beans are tender, 1 hour.  Add Demi-Glace, cook another 30 minutes.

Discard thyme sprigs.  Add barley and salt, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until barley is tender, about 15 minutes. Finish with half and half.  Stir in pepper and serve drizzled with additional oil.

· To quick-soak, put beans in a 4- to 5-quart pot and cover with cold water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, uncovered, then boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 1 hour before draining.
· Soup can be made 5 days ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Thin with water when reheating.

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