Not only this post follows the previous one almost three weeks later than I had originally planned, but for my grand comeback what do I present you with? Soup. You’d be excused if you decided to leave straight away, but if you stay, I promise I’ll convince you to embrace my ‘anytime soup and gremolata’ mantra. While I was thinking on what excuse I might make up to justify this recipe choice to you, which might look inappropriately out of season (especially if you’re, say, Italian – hello Italian readers! – and have been wearing a t-shirt for the past month or more), it occurred to me that, yes, the thought of soft, nourishing and comforting bowl of beans soup might not be what you had in mind on a warm spring day, but the gremolata sings a different song. What the gremolata does is infuse the softly herby aroma of the cannellini beans soup with some strong flavours (think lemon, cheese and parsley) and give your teeth something to crunch in the form of sunflower seeds. The olives, traditional in gremolata, provide a good, earthy base, in both texture and flavour, for the other ingredients. In a jar in the fridge, lid screwed on, this gremolata keeps well for a few days, although the oil will be slightly absorbed by the seeds and the parsley so it might look drier. The quantity described below makes a small jar, but the good news is that gremolata will make your tastebuds sing even spread on toast or biscuit, so give that a go.
I don’t know about you, but after weeks of forced seclusion due to crazy work deadlines, I just feel the need to go out, have a walk along the canal (the ducklings are born and happily paddling behind their mums) and breath some fresh air. A dog would no doubt make all of the above a lot better but, alas, that will have to wait. This soup together with the gremolata will make my (perhaps late) mental transition from winter to spring a bit smoother and less sudden. And from now on, brace yourselves, because I’ve come back, I want to eat good food and I’ll take you with me.
The day before you want to prepare the soup, soak the beans in plenty of cold water, ideally for about 24 hours. Once they are ready to be cooked, drain and wash them under cold water, before setting them aside. In a large pan with the lid on, sweat the onions in the oil for about 5 minutes on low heat. Add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary and cook for a further 3 minutes with the lid on, stirring occasionally. Add the beans and the stock and, lid on, put the heat on high. When the soup starts to boil, leave it on high heat and let it boil for about 10 minutes. After that, simmer on a low heat until the beans are cokked through, about 40 minutes. If you’re unsure whether they are cooked, spoon a bean out of the soup and mash it with a fork. If it doesn’t immediately give way, they need more time. Take away from the heat, fish out the bay leaves and the herb sprigs. By now, the thyme and rosemary leaves will probably not be attached to their sprig anymore, so make sure you get the harder bits. With a blender, whiz about half of the soup, so that you still have quite a few whole beans but the rest of the soup is of a creamy consistency. Taste the soup and add more salt if necessary (depending on the saltiness of your stock). Prepare the gremolata. In a food processor, blend the olives and the parsley for a few seconds (you don’t want a smooth cream). Tip into a bowl, add the zest, cheese, sunflower seeds and mix well. Finally, add the extra virgin olive oil and mix. Serve the soup with about a tablespoon of gremolata on top per person, and finish with some pepper.