[for "Living Within", June 2017]
I am just returned from a week in Sicily where the climate and the produce is ahead of the curve of our summer in almost every sense. Generous, flavourful, raised in heat, influenced by conquerors from ages past; presented to us in theatrical settings often in shades of a glorious sunset - pink, red and gold - and tasting divine were seafood, tomatoes, blood red oranges, strawberries, apricots, … . Having access to a market and unable to resist the temptation to look, taste, touch and buy, I picked up some vivid pink striped borlotti beans (lingua di fuoco - tongue of fire variety) and some datterini tomatoes - so named because of their similarity in shape to small dates, so beloved because of their flavour (so perfect in fact that they were offered to us as an appetiser at one restaurant still attached to the vine but otherwise unadorned and unaccompanied).
Today I made soup with these ingredients - simple, tasty, healthful, hearty - and bringing with it, on a grey toned English Bank Holiday Monday, a burst of sunshine.
Bean Soup with Tomato Salad
Chop some small cherry tomatoes into halves or quarters; finely dice about a quarter of a red onion; shred a few fresh basil leaves - mix together these three ingredients with some salt and a generous drizzle of good olive oil - set aside.
Take a quantity of feshly shelled beans - borlotti or cannellini will both work fine - (enough to make about 250g cooked beans - or the equivalent of the contents of a can); boil, gently, in enough water to cover them by about 2½cm until they are just tender (adding aromatics like garlic, bay leaves, thyme, celery, parsley stalks, will give you a richer stock to use in your soup); salt the water once the beans are cooked. If you need to drain the beans, reserve the cooking liquid; discard the aromatics.
In a saucepan large enough to comfortably hold at least a litre of water heat a little olive oil and gently fry some finely chopped garlic with a little crushed dried chilli (according to taste). Add the cooked beans with their cooking water and allow to cook for about 10-15 minutes (cover partially with a lid). You can crush a few of the beans in the pan in order to thicken the soup if you want to at this stage.
Add in about 50g of small pasta shapes (I used tiny stars) together with 750ml water; season to taste with salt and allow to cook gently until the pasta is tender. Test for seasoning; adjust if necessary.
Serve the soup in bowls with a spoonful of the tomato and onion salad on top, sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper; drizzle with some good olive oil, serve with grated parmesan.