Vegetarian Tuscan Bean Stew

If your goal this month is to eat healthier and shed a few pounds, this hearty soup is a surefire way to keep you on track! The rich and flavorful broth is enhanced by porcini mushrooms and several cloves of garlic that’s guaranteed to warm you up without weighing you down. This hearty vegetarian soup takes several hours to make, but the result is definitely worth the wait. If you don’t have time to let the dried beans soak for 24 hours, I have provided directions below on how to quick soak the dried beans. You will also find directions on substituting canned cannellini beans if you prefer to make this soup a quick weeknight meal. Serve over a piece of toasted Italian bread and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. :)

Vegetarian Tuscan Bean Stew

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon salt, divided
1 pound dried cannellini beans (about 2 cups), rinsed and picked over
½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
4 ½ cups water, divided
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped medium (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 medium ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
8 medium garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
3 cups vegetable broth
2 medium bay leaves
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained and rinsed
1 medium bunch kale (about 1 pound), stems trimmed, leaves chopped into 1-inch pieces) about 8 cups loosely packed
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
1 loaf Italian bread (about 1 pound)

Directions:

In a large bowl, dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts cold water. Add beans and soak, at room temperature, for at least 8 and up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Cover dried porcini mushroom pieces with 1/2 cup hot tap water in small microwave-safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Cut several steam vents in plastic with paring knife and microwave on high power, 30 seconds. Let stand until mushrooms soften, about 5 minutes. Lift mushrooms from liquid with fork and mince using chef’s knife. Strain liquid through fine-mesh strainer lined with paper towels into medium bowl. Set mushrooms and liquid aside.
Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, celery, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 10 to 16 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add remaining 4 cups water, broth, bay leaves, soaked beans, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper and reserved mushrooms and mushroom liquid. Increase heat to high and bring stew to simmer. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook until beans are almost tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Remove pot from oven and stir in tomatoes and kale. Return pot to oven and continue to cook until beans and greens are fully tender, 30 to 40 minutes longer.
Remove pot from oven and submerge rosemary sprig in stew. Cover and let stand 15 minutes. Discard bay leaves and rosemary sprig; season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, the stew over toasted bread, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and lightly drizzled with olive oil.

Recipe Notes:
To quick-soak dried beans: Place the rinsed beans in a large heat-resistant bowl. Bring 2 quarts of water and 3 tablespoons of salt to a boil. Pour the water over the beans and let them sit for 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans well before proceeding with step 2.
If you do not want to use dried beans, you can substitute the dried beans for 2 (14.5 ounce) cans of cannellini beans. Drain and rinse the canned beans well before proceeding with step 3. Reduce cooking time in step 3 to 10 minutes if using canned beans.

Source: adapted from Cook's Illustrated, March 2008

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