Once upon a time, I feel in love with Borlotti bean soup. (In fact, Borlotti bean soup with pancetta is actually and truthfully my very favorite soup in the entire world.) I’ll tell you when it was. It was when I first ate fresh Borlotti beans in Italy. They’re magic. Creamy. Firm. Decadent. Beans with an almost chestnut-like essence about them.
True story: One time I went to a Michelin-star restaurant in Seattle and when given my choice of entrees, I chose the bean soup. That is how much I love beans. And dare I say – this bean soup I’m going to share with you today rivals the fancy restaurant one.
Three cheers for the home cook! (Side bar: If you’d like to rev-up your home cooking skills, be sure to checkout my entire recipe archive here or join our Cooking Community for inspiration and instruction from me!)
I filled my garden rows with Borlotti beans after falling in love with them – though, I’m quickly reminded why most farmers aren’t vegetarians. It takes a lot of space to grow a small amount of beans and even though I only harvested enough for maybe three or four pots of this Borlotti bean soup, it was well worth the effort.
Plus, I got to see my children’s faces as we shelled and separated the dried beans from the fresh beans. Farm kids can be fairly easy to entertain and their excitement as the pods POPPED open and flicked out the beans kept us giggling.
Gardeners, take note: if you want to enjoy the fresh shell beans, you need to harvest the pink Borlotti bean pods before they dry on the plant. If you let them dry, you’ll be harvesting dried beans instead. The fresh beans only last for about a week after they’re taken out of the shell, so enjoy them quickly.
Alternatively, the dried beans last for roughly 1,383 years in storage and you can eat them whenever you like.
Photographs, take note: If you want to photograph the very best vegetables, I opt for cabbages and beans. Look at them! Sheer culinary perfection. Humble and ravishing all at once.
Enough talk. Let’s get to cooking Borlotti bean soup, shall we?
Bortolli Bean Soup with Pancetta
- 24 cherry tomatoes
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 cups Borlotti bean (or fresh shell bean)
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
- 3 bay leaves
- 8 cups meat or vegetable stock
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- 4 ounces pancetta or bacon
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half before tossing them with the olive oil. Roast in a cast iron pan on the stove until they’re just soft. Set them aside.
While the tomatoes are roasting, add the beans, rosemary, chili flakes, bay leaves, stock, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt together in a large Dutch oven.
Bring the soup to a boil before reducing heat so that they beans are just barely simmering.
Cook the soup, uncovered, until the beans are just barely soft to the bite. This will take about 30-45 minutes.
Season the soup to taste with salt and continue to cook it until the beans are creamy, but not mushy. About another 15 minutes.
While the beans are doing their final cooking, dice the pancetta into small pieces and cook in a cast iron skillet over medium heat until crispy. Drain and set aside.
To serve, dish up the soup and add the diced pancetta and roasted tomatoes on top. Garnish with freshly ground black pepper.
The recipe can be adapted to utilize dried beans as well. To do this, simply soak the dried beans for 12 hours in a bowl of room temperature water before continuing on with the recipe.
If you need a crusty bread to enjoy this soup with, might I recommend this Sourdough Rosemary Focaccia? A perfect Italian accompaniment to this humble, yet exquisite, meal.
In fact (and I say this honestly), I would have no reservations about serving this soup at even the fanciest of supper parties. So long as you take care to not overcook the beans, and use a deliciously flavored stock, you will be joyfully pleased at the result.
Humble food is often the very best food. It asks nothing of you other than to enjoy it and let it fill your belly.
So let it. And enjoy!