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March 7, 2006

Eat Your Heart Out—March 7, 2006

Just when it seemed like winter was finally over and I would be able to start enjoying springtime food again—treats like kabobs on the grill, fruit salad, and gazpacho—a snowfall covered the grounds of Chicago and reminded me that I won’t be getting off so easily. Although it took me awhile to consider the reasons why a snowfall would be beneficial to me, I was able to think of two things: hot cocoa and soup. There is nothing better to do on a blustery day than to take two mugs, fill one with cocoa and the other with soup, and just look out the window contemplating the snow and enjoying that you are not outside in it. Bean soups are particularly nice in the wintertime because they require little work, are often quite cheap to make, and provide enough protein and nutrients to fill you up. They also keep well, so you can make a batch today and have it for the rest of the week. Maybe by then the snow will have melted.

White Bean Soup

Serves 4 as an appetizer

The Ingredients

1/2 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped

1 small shallot, finely chopped

6 cups canned white beans (such as cannellini or navy beans), drained and rinsed

1 3/4 cups beef stock

1/2 cup milk or cream

2 1/2 tablespoons freshly chopped rosemary

Salt and freshly ground pepper

The Directions

1. In a large stockpot over medium heat, add the oil, garlic, and shallot and sautée until the garlic turns pale gold.

2. Add the beans to the pot with a dash of salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and simmer gently for 5 to 6 minutes.

3. Add the stock and milk to the pot, then blend the soup with either an immersion blender or transfer the soup to a blender. Add the rosemary, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot. If the soup appears to be too thick, just add a little more stock or water until it reaches a consistency to your liking.

Lentil Soup

Adapted from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells (Workman Publishing: 1989)

Serves 8 as an appetizer

The Ingredients

6 oz smoked bacon, coarsely chopped

1 leek, trimmed and minced

1 large carrot, minced

1 medium yellow onion, minced

1 celery rib, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

4 whole cloves

1 pound lentilles de Puy (French lentils)

2 bay leaves

2 1/2 quarts beef stock (if using canned, try to get low-sodium beef stock)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

The Directions

1. In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, sautée the bacon until lightly browned. Add the minced vegetables (you might want to use a food processor to mince them to save time), the cumin, and the cloves, and sautée until all have softened and are nicely browned.

2. Add the lentils, bay leaves, and freshly ground pepper to taste. Stir in the beef stock and simmer, covered, until the lentils are cooked through, about 35–40 minutes. The lentils should be soft to the bite and look as though they are about to pop out of their outer casing. Taste for seasoning and serve in bowls. If desired, you can top your soup with more freshly cooked bacon, crumbled sausages, or even sour cream.