This is one of my winter staples. Heart-warming soup works both as a main course for a simple dinner or a starter to a bigger evening meal.
250g dried cannellini, haricot or butter beans (I normally use waitrose canned cannellini or butter beans, which work perfectly)
6 cloves (I used as many as necessary to turn one onion into a hedgehog)
handful of parsley stalks
8-12 black peppercorns
1-2 bay leaves
3 tbsp olive oil
1-2 stick celery diced
2 carrots diced
200g piece smoked bacon cubed (I use about 4 smoked bacon rashers from my local butchers or a packet of pancetta/lardons)
1 litre chicken stock or ham stock (when in a hurry I use knorr chicken cubes, no MSG or preservatives)
150ml single cream
chopped parsley to garnish
Go easy with the seasoning – the bacon means you shouldn’t need salt at all.
Put the beans into a large pan and cover with 1 litre water. Stick the cloves into one of the oinions and add it to the pan along with the parsley stalks, peppercorns and bay. Bring to the boil, skim off any scum, then partly cover. Turn down to a simmer and cook for an hour, with the lid on. Drain the beans and discard the onion, bay and parsley stalks.
Chop the other onion finely. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the onion, celery, carrot and bacon (keep back some of the bacon to fry for a garnish).
Cook gently until golden. Add the beans and stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for 25-30 minutes. The beans should collapse completely – press them with the back of a wooden spoon to help them along. Add the cream (if using), season with pepper and taste. Quickly dry-fry the rest of the bacon, divide it between each serving of soup and scatter with parsley.
Note: I used coriander instead of parsley on occasion and it works well too. Different stock also affects the flavour, I found that using my own chicken stock makes for a creamier, less pronounced taste compared to the knorr chicken stock cubes.