This soup is amazing. Really, I'm not just saying that because I made it. I can be honest here and tell you that I wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did. But it completely exceeded all my expectations. I don't even care that we're heading into summer; I just want to make this soup again, and again.
I found this soup recipe in March's Cooking Light Magazine. In that month's issue, Ellie Krieger (who I love, of course) had done a guest feature on rush-hour meals. These recipes were all supposed to be easy and fast to make after a long day at work, or school, or whatever. Plus, they all have the distinction of being both Ellie and Cooking Light-approved. It seemed like a match made in heaven to me!
Of course, I didn't stick to the recipe word for word. The original calls for spicy pork sausage and is actually titled Vegetable and Spicy Sausage Soup with Cheese "Crackers." I did not have pork sausage on hand, and I really felt like making this soup vegetarian (with the exception of the use of chicken broth). So I played around with the formula, and this is what I came up with.
I followed the directions at first. I sauteed the veggies, then added some tomato paste and cayenne pepper to absorb into the vegetables. I then added a pureed blend of white beans, chicken broth, and the sauteed veggies into the mix. Another 2 1/2 cups of broth went in, and everything came up to a boil. (Ellie's version has you add another full can of white beans into the mix at this point, but since I'm not a crazy big fan of white beans, I did without.)
While this simmered on the stove, I went to work on the cheese "crackers." This is something I see over and over again, but I had never tried it myself. I've seen Giada make these; I've seen Rachael make these (I think), but it was finally my turn. It's very easy; I don't know why I was so scared of these turning out right.
All you do is grate some parmesan cheese into mounds, flatten those mounds into 3 (ish)-inch circles, crank some black pepper down over the tops, and bake them in a very hot oven (500 degrees) for about 3 minutes. They come out just perfect; crisp, toasty, and bubbly. They've got that almost-burnt cheese taste to them, which you either love or hate (turns out Xander hates it!). Andy and I loved these. I will be using this technique a lot more often, I think.
After the soup has had time to simmer, about 20 to 30 minutes, you can take it off the heat. At this point, Ellie adds half-and-half, rosemary, and a bit of salt and pepper, to taste. I chose to eat mine cream-free (I wasn't feeling the creamy soup that evening) but I added a touch of heavy cream to the rest of the pot, for Andy (heavy cream was all we had).
Finally, Ellie's version has you serve the soup with some previously cooked and reserved pork sausage crumbled on top, and the cheese "cracker" dipped into the bowl. Instead, and please bear with me here, I sprinkled some Boca vegetarian chicken pieces on top. I know, it's really strange. I actually meant to sprinkle some regular Boca burger crumbles on, but I had already pulled the box and the patty out of the freezer before I fully realized that I had pulled out the wrong thing. I just decided to go with it; why not? It turned out really good, I have to say. The "chicken" patty was breaded, so the breading sort of lent an extra thickness to the soup, and the pieces lent some extra texture that I thought it needed. It was a successful experiment, and one we will be repeating!
The original recipe can be found here.
Almost-Vegetarian White Bean Soup with Cheese "Crackers"
adapted from Cooking Light
1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth), divided
1 (15.5-oz.) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
4 Tbsp. grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 Boca burger or chicken patties
1. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil, then onions, carrot, celery, 1/4 tsp. salt, and garlic; cook for 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring frequently. Stir in 2 Tbsp. tomato paste and cayenne; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
2. Place 1 cup of this vegetable mixture, 1/2 cup broth, and the can of beans into a food processor or blender, and process until smooth. Return bean mixture to pot.
3. Add remaining 2 1/2 cups broth to pot; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 20 minutes, or until vegetables are thoroughly cooked. Remove from heat, and add the cream, remaining salt, and 1/2 tsp. of black pepper. Cover and keep warm.
4. While the soup simmers, preheat oven to 500 degrees F. On a parchment-or silpat-lined baking sheet, grate the cheese into 4 even mounds of approximately 1 Tbsp. each, then evenly sprinkle the remaining 1/2 tsp. of pepper over each mound. Flatten each mound into a 3-inch round. Bake at 500 degrees for 3 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Cool on pan for 3 minutes before removing.
5. Heat 2 Boca patties (your choice of variety/flavor) according to package directions. Chop cooked patties into small pieces. Divide soup evenly into four bowls, then sprinkle the patties evenly over each serving. Dip one cheese "cracker" into each bowl, and serve.