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250g (11/4 cups) dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight then drained
1 bunch silverbeet, ends trimmed
60ml (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil, plus extra, for serving
1 leek, trimmed and finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, trimmed and finely chopped
125g piece pancetta, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
½ teaspoon ground fennel seeds
½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
1 litre (4 cups) chicken stock
200g stale LOAF ciabatta, crusts removed and coarsely chopped
Grated parmesan and torn basil leaves, to serve
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Here’s a nifty way of using up that stale LOAF ciabatta... if yours hangs around long enough to end up that way, that is. This hearty Tuscan soup, whose name means 'reboiled', comes from the venerable tradition of cucina povera, or the ‘cooking of the poor’. In this, the seasons and frugal necessity dictated what went into the pot and nothing, not even stale bread, was wasted. Use whatever winter vegetables you have on hand- turnips, cavolo nero silverbeet, cabbage, spinach, pumpkin, borlotti beans or chickpeas would all work well. This recipe does makes a hefty amount but leftovers taste even better the next day.
Cook the beans in simmering water for 50 minutes or until tender, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Drain well.
Meanwhile, remove the stems and thick ribs from the silverbeet. Finely chop 2 cups of the stems and ribs then discard the remaining. Wash and shake dry the leaves, chop coarsely then set aside.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the leek, carrot, celery, garlic, chopped silverbeet stems and pancetta then cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Add the ground fennel, chilli flakes, tomatoes and stock and bring to a simmer.
Cook, covered over low heat, for 10 minutes until the vegetables are tender then stir in the silverbeet leaves, drained beans and bread. Cover and cook over for 20 minutes or until thick, the silverbeet is tender and the bread has broken down.
Add a little more stock or water if necessary- the soup should be quite thick however. Season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper then divide among warmed bowls and serve, drizzled with olive oil and with grated parmesan and torn basil leaves passed separately.
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