The Italians have a way with bean soups.
Minestrone, ribollita, pasta e fagioli, are classic Italian soups that celebrate the splendid variety and hearty flavours of dried beans. Expect to find borlotti and black-eyed beans in the more rustic soups, cannellini beans prevail when subtle flavour is required. This soup has its style origins in the refined cooking of Piedmont, home to black, and white, truffles.
French composer Erik Satie, he of the enigmatic piano music Gymnopedie No 1 - who was described by a contemporary as ‘a humorist, practical joker, and perturber of the common peace’ – had an eccentric approach to his diet - ‘My only nourishment consists of food that is white: eggs, sugar, shredded bones, the fat of dead animals, veal, salt, coconuts, chicken cooked in white water, mouldy fruit, rice, turnips, sausages in camphor, pastry, cheese (white varieties), cotton salad, and certain kinds of fish (without their skin)... I have a good appetite, but never talk when eating for fear of strangling myself.’
Satie would have approved of our white bean soup, its minimalism interrupted only by the optional black truffle and with such deep and tantalising flavours as to render diners speechless until the last drop.
If you don’t want to use black truffle, you can substitute sautéed mushrooms or reconstituted dried porcini. Truffle oil, however, is essential.
1.5 cups dried cannellini beans
60-80g salted butter
6 medium leeks, white part only, well washed of grit and cut crosswise into slices
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1.5 litres chicken stock
1-2 tsp salt flakes
Soak the cannellini beans for at least 5 hours (or overnight in a cool place) in abundant cold water. Next day drain the beans and rinse.
Meanwhile melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks, onion, celery and potato and sauté very, very gently for 5 minutes with the lid on, until the vegetables have sweated down. Do not colour. Add the beans, stir well and pour in the stock to cover. Cover and cook gently over low heat for 2 hours or until the beans are very tender. Taste for salt.
Pour off a cup of the liquid. Blend the soup, adjusting the thickness as required with the reserved liquid.
1 tsp truffle oil
3 tsp extra virgin olive oil
cracked black pepper
slices of fresh black truffle, optional, or sautéed, thinly sliced mushrooms
Ladle soup into warm bowls. Drizzle with the olive/truffle oil mix. Grind some black pepper in the centre. Sprinkle the surface of the soup with salt flakes (this is important as the little bursts of salt react divinely with the truffle oil), and lastly add the fresh black truffle.