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Posts Tagged ‘marrow beans’

Two Sturdy French Soups

Cold weather hasn’t seriously clamped down yet, but there’ve been enough damp, dank, chilly days lately to push my culinary interest toward hearty, rib-sticking foods. Still trying out never-made recipes from my cookbook collection, I’ve recently discovered two excellent soups in the Cooking of Provincial France volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series: Potage Crécy and Potage Purée Soissonaise.

 

Potage Crécy – Purée of Carrot Soup
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I use a lot of carrots in my cooking – mostly as an ancillary ingredient, in the basic mix of chopped vegetables called mirepoix (French), battuto (Italian), or sofrito (Spanish). It was a nice change to have carrots play the star part in this easy recipe. My trusty mini processor made short work of mincing three cups’ worth.
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I then minced ¾ cup of onions by hand, which I softened in butter for 5 minutes in a heavy saucepan.
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Into the pan went the carrots, a quart of Tom’s homemade broth (a deliberate substitution for the recipe’s chicken stock), 2 teaspoons of tomato paste, and 2 tablespoons of raw rice.
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After simmering the soup for just 30 minutes, uncovered, I pureed the entire mixture through a food mill, returned it to the pan, and added salt, pepper, and ½ cup of heavy cream. At dinner time I brought the soup back to a simmer and stirred in a tablespoon of softened butter before serving it.
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It was, as I’ve already said, extremely good. Carrots have so much natural sugar, I’d wondered if the soup would be uncomfortably sweet, but it wasn’t. The flavor suggested a good winter squash. The carrots had totally absorbed the cream, leaving a texture just a little nubbly – quite pleasant on the tongue. This soup will be a good standby in the cold days ahead.

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Potage Purée Soissonaise – White Bean Soup
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I liked this recipe at first glance, because it calls for marrow beans. Large, plump, and richly flavorful, marrows are my all-time favorite white bean. This soup was a more elaborate production than the previous one, so I started early in the day, making half a recipe’s worth. Using bouillon cubes, I made up 1½ quarts of chicken stock, dropped in 1½ cups of beans, and gave them a 2-minute boil.
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Then the pot sat off heat for an hour, letting the beans soak, while I chopped half a carrot, half an onion, and a big leek in my large food processor. At that point I had to take exception to the recipe. It wanted the vegetables softened for 5 minutes in 1 tablespoon of butter in a 6- to 8-inch skillet. That would have been ridiculous: My half quantity generously filled a 10-inch pan and still took more than 5 minutes, beside needing more than half a tablespoon of butter.
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I went on to prepare the remaining ingredients. The recipe called for a chunk of lean salt pork, which is just about unobtainable these days. (It’s a mystery how some things, like salt pork and Bibb lettuce, just disappear from the marketplace.) At my butcher’s suggestion, I’d gone out and bought the fattiest bacon I could find, 2 ounces of which I blanched in boiling water for 10 minutes. I also made up a bouquet garni of bay leaf, parsley, and celery leaves.
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Next, I had to drain the beans, measure the liquid, and add more if needed to make it up to a quart. It took just a little. Back went the liquid into the soup pot, along with the beans, the bacon, the vegetables, and the bouquet garni.
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Now came the annoying part. I had to leave the pot uncovered and simmer the soup for two hours, or until the beans were tender. That meant almost constant attention to keep the soup from, alternatively, boiling too hard and doing nothing at all. After the first hour, almost all the liquid was gone. I had to add several doses of boiling water from a kettle, and keep the simmer going for almost an extra half hour, before the beans were ready.

Finally, it was time to drain all the solid ingredients, discard the bacon and bouquet garni, and purée the rest through a food mill. It was very dense, requiring long, hard, hand labor.
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When I returned the puree to the pot I was to add “enough of the liquid to make the soup as thick as heavy cream.” As you can see in the picture, there wasn’t very much liquid left. My puree absorbed it all, almost without noticing it.

The recipe did say I could add more stock if the soup remained too thick. That increased my annoyance with the pointless precision of measuring and adjusting the liquid to begin with and expecting it to last through two hours of uncovered cooking. I didn’t have any more stock. So I thinned it out a bit more with hot water, bringing it to a sort of porridgy density, swirled in a tablespoon of butter, and served it.

After all that, I’m glad to be able to say the soup was fabulous. All its flavors came together in a subtle, creamy, almost meaty whole – hard to describe but deeply satisfying.

I’ll definitely make this soup again, but with some adjustments. Let the beans soak for two hours, not one, at the start. Use at least half again as much liquid. Use homemade stock (the bouillon cubes were heavy on salt). Partially cover the pan for the entire two-hour simmer. Let my big food processor, not the manual food mill, purée the solids. I don’t think any of that could hurt the soup, and it will certainly ease the job of the soup maker.

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