Tuscan Bean and Vegetable Soup with Asiago Croutons

On a cold, bleak winter day like today I can’t help but daydream about escaping to some place a little less gray.  Right now, I’m thinking Italy in the spring sounds just about right.  It’s been far too many years since I last visited Italy, yes far too many.

And since it will probably be a few more years before I make it back, because I’m not quite ready to tackle foreign travel with three little ones yet, I have to settle for daydreams, my old photo albums, and the lovely shared experiences from my more well traveled friends. However, in the kitchen I can make a few of my Italian dreams come true right now.

This Tuscan Bean and Vegetable Soup has been the perfect winter pick-me-up.  Full of flavor and remarkably simple, this dish is a little bit of Italy on a gray winter day here in Albuquerque. Best of all it is healthy and delicious.
Packed with vegetables and legumes, this soup is rich in minerals, dietary fiber, and even protein. The Swiss Chard alone provides high doses of vitamins A, K, and C.  The Asiago Croutons add a simple heartiness to the soup making it a complete meal.  It’s not quite a trip through the Tuscan countryside, but as long as I’m stuck here in New Mexico, this soup is the next best thing.

Tuscan Bean and Vegetable Soup with Asiago Croutons

Ingredients

2 cups cooked pinto beans *(see note below)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
5 cups water
3 small zucchini squash, sliced
3/4 cup carrots, sliced
1 1/2 cups red potatoes, cubed
1 cup canned tomato puree
1 cup whole petite green beans, or cut green beans
1 teaspoon ground sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups packed swiss chard, coarsely chopped
6 slices crusty whole wheat french bread
1/3 cup Asiago, grated

Directions

* Note: This recipe works best with freshly cooked pinto beans.  To cook your own pinto beans, soak 1 cup dried beans overnight.  Combine soaked beans and 10 cups water in a large pot.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for approximately 1 hour or until beans are tender.  Drain and proceed with recipe.

In a large dutch oven or sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion, celery, and garlic and saute for 3 minutes.  Add beans, 5 cups water, and the next 7 ingredients.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 35 minutes.  Add the chard and simmer an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Preheat boiler. Arrange bread slices on a baking sheet. Top evenly with Asiago and broil for 2 to 3 minutes or until bread is toasted and cheese is melted and browning.  Slice toasted bread into squares.  Ladle soup into bowls and top with cheese croutons.  Makes 6 servings.

Where do you daydream about traveling to?

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