Sometimes, in the bleak days of winter, when the holidays are over and real life comes crashing back in, it is nice to have a moment of simple comfort. A nice, filling, warm meal, but not one that takes hours and hours of hands-on prep. So for that reason, I present this very simple, classic soup that takes very little effort but produces beautiful bowls of hearty soup with subtle flavor. It is just perfect for a winters day by the fire or curled up on the sofa. Or leave it warming in the slow cooker beside a stack of bowls, and your friends and family can ladle some up whenever they come in from playing in the snow! I love this with some shaved shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese floating on top, a sprinkle of chopped herbs and a lovely piece of crusty bread on the side, though these easy Herbed Focaccia Dinner Rolls make an excellent accompaniment.
I have absolutely no problem using those containers of pre-cut mirepoix (celery, carrot and onion) that you find sometimes in the produce section, or frozen chopped vegetables (you’ll need about 1 ½ cups) to speed up this process. Fennel adds a really interesting, herbaceous note to this soup so try your best to use it, but if you really can’t, it is still lovely without it. The hard rind cut from parmesan cheese is the secret weapon to flavoring this simple soup. I often find they sell pieces of the rind at cheese counters in grocery stores, but you can cut the rind from a piece and use the grated cheese to top the soup, an accompanying salad or some toasted and buttered bread. Whenever you buy a piece of real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, save the rind end in a baggie in the freezer for future use. You don’t have to use it here, but you will be extraordinarily glad if you do.
Slow Cooker Italian White Bean Soup
2 Tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
1 fennel bulb, cored and finely diced
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 cloves of garlic put through a press or finely minced
3 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs sage
4 sprigs oregano
2 inch piece of fennel stem with fronds attached
1 ½ cups dried white beans, well rinsed
6 cups of chicken broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes with their juices
2 -3 pieces hard rind from Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Shaved or grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Finely chopped oregano or sage for sprinkling
- Melt the butter in the slow cooker set to high, then add the onion, carrot, celery and fennel. Sprinkle over the salt and stir to coat in the butter. Cover and cook for 30 minutes until beginning to soften. Add the garlic and cook a further 5 minutes. While the vegetables are softening, tie the herbs and fennel stalk into a cheesecloth bundle, or use a large mesh infuser ball.
- Put the beans in the slow cooker and nestle in the herb bundle. Pour over the broth and the tomatoes and stir. Drop in the parmesan rinds, cover the crock. Set to low heat and cook for 7 – 8 hours until the beans are tender. Remove the cheese rind and herb bundle before serving.