Venice is truly charming. This tiny city is jam-packed with restaurants, shops, galleries, and… tourists. While this place sometimes feels like a tourist trap, it’s difficult not to be captured by the romance of the narrow streets, cobblestone, and winding canals.
With high tourist concentration comes awful, touristy food. Fortunately, I ventured off the beaten path and had some of the best meals thus far on my European journey.
This city really knows its pasta, gnocchi, and risotto.
Seafood Gnochetti with Zucchini Flowers
I especially love Cicheti, quick tapa-sized bites to pick and choose from at wine bars. Local wines such as Prosecco are also very reasonably priced, which helps.
Angela of Spinach Tiger and she graciously accepted to encapsulate Venice in a recipe for me. Not only does she have a gorgeous blog and is well versed in Italian cooking, Angela also has a conscientious food philosophy.
What I love most is how she narrates the stories behind her recipes, just as she does beautifully in this featured recipe, Cranberry Bean Soup, Mâche Crostini with Prosciutto di Parma. grazie molte!
Written by Angela Roberts of Spinach Tiger
While you are reading this, Mel is somewhere most of us want to be. Eating her way through Paris, Marseilles, Florence, Venice and Barcelona, she extended a lovely opportunity to me to be a guest blogger, which is a great honor.
A few days ago, Mel happily surprised me with a copy of Thomas Keller’s latest cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home. This was the prize for choosing my mom’s amazing beef and bean pie as the best sounding comfort food. It was then that she discovered that I host an Italian cooking group at Spinach Tiger, called Cooking Italy, which cooks classical Italian food and she asked if I could something that represented Venetian home cooking.
I spent a romantic 8th wedding anniversary in Venice, eating the best beef carpaccio I ever had, but I found myself wondering what most Venetians grew up eating at their mamma’s kitchen table that might be a bit more approachable. And, what could I do in two days, during a week I‘m working two jobs, where I might have only two hours and offer Mel’s readers something that might give you a peak into her adventure. Isn’t it great fun to vicariously live through another person’s culinary experience?
First of all, rustic and Venice truly don’t go together. It’s a dressy place. Venetians have style and flair. Think pastries and Venetian glass. How could I capture a piece of Venice for you and Mel.
Having said all that, every Italian, no matter how stylish, elegant, or (even snobby) eats their mamma’s bean soup. And, if they are Venetian, it will most likely be made with cranberry beans.
I offer you two kinds of bean soup using two ingredients most likely to be used in Venice, cranberry beans and fennel. And, to dress the soup up with a special touch, I give you two easy ways to serve crostini that gives a new meaning to a hunk of bread.
What most people may not realize about Italian food, is that is very regional, and it would be considered inappropriate to try to order Florentine food in Venice or a Tuscan dish in Naples. Each region is made up of home cooks that hover over their own coveted traditions, which are formed by their particular, terrain, local sources and hand held recipes. Venice, in particular can be a bit confusing for a tourist, unfamiliar with the cuisine. You will see the same dishes repeated in Venetian restaurants and you might not see them anywhere else in Italy.
There are, however, some ingredients that make a dish quintessentially Italian. Olive oil and parmigiano reggiano are found on every Italian table in every part of Italy, and without these, the rustic Italian cuisine that is universally loved could not exist.
Last week, I had the pleasure to interview Guiliano Hazan, son of legendary Marcella Hazan, and he explains “Italian” cuisine as a dish in which you can taste each ingredient separately and not as one flavor. No ingredient should be placed in the dish to fight with another. When I asked him if he and his mother ever differed in anything, he told me she favors fresh beans, as I do, but he will use canned beans. He thinks with the right flavors, the dishes can end up in the same place. I liked that culinary confidence, and if anyone knows what tastes good, it would be Giuliano Hazan who has been eating from the hands of an Italian cooking legend since birth.
And that is how I came to make soup number one, Cranberry Bean Soup with Fennel.
Surprisingly, cranberry beans, which you may see in Italy labeled as borlotti beans, came from the Americas and made their way to Italy in the 1500’s, but it is the Italians who put them dancing in olive oil, onion, and parmigiano reggiano. These flavors are Italian anywhere in the world.
Having just finished making a cranberry bean sauce for pasta with my cooking group, I discovered that not everyone has access to fresh cranberry beans, as I do in Nashville, and some couldn’t even find dried. So I thought, what if you can only find the dried cranberry beans or worse, what if you can’t find them at all? Could I make a canned bean soup that was as satisfying as a dried bean soup?
And that is how I came to make soup number two, Red Kidney Bean Soup with Fennel.
The darker soup is the one made with canned kidney beans. It was thick and flavorful.
Imagine coming in the house on a dark, rainy day and being seduced over to the stove to get a bowl of soup, piece of bread, a shaving of good cheese, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Good olive oil and good cheese are two of the best food creations on earth, and the rest of Italian cuisine is often just a prop to show them off and a reason to indulge. This may be why the Italians are so good with beans, which yield willingly to the Italian flavors, while making room to also taste the vegetables surrounding them.
All too often beans are just cooked with a lot of heat (hot peppers) or sugar to take your mind off of them, but I like to taste cranberry beans which are nutty and similar to chestnut flavor. I want them savory and sultry, and I want my mouth to taste the last bite with as much gusto as the first, something too much “heat” can mess up.
If you have the time to plan, pick soup number one, soak the cranberry beans overnight and go from there. Of course, if you find fresh that’s the best option.
If you have less than an hour, or can’t find the dried cranberry beans, you can make soup number two, using a can of red kidney beans and it will come out like a soup/stew and trick your taste buds into thinking the flavors were built over hours.
To further this bit of life’s pleasures, I’ve offered you a side crostini, with mâche, olive oil, lemon, and if you are feeling super decadent, feel free to wrap these with an ingredient you will find hanging all over Venice, prosciutto di parma. It’s heaven, and will turn your rustic country meal into solid gold.
I hope you enjoy this little bit of Italian love from Spinach Tiger, and I hope that Mel is having the time of her life, culinary and otherwise.
For Soup Number 1:
Use fresh or dried cranberry beans. Fresh beans do not need to be soaked, and will cook in 40-60 minutes on low heat. These are from my local farmer’s market.
If dried, soak overnight. You may not see these beans shrink as much as other beans. Before soaking, wash beans, pick over anything that needs discarded. Cook beans in unsalted water, (about 2” above the beans) for 45 minutes up to two hours, simmering only. Add one garlic clove in with beans, to be discarded later.
For Soup Number 2 (the darker soup): Use 1 can (about 2 cups) red kidney beans, rinsed thoroughly in cold water.
Once beans are cooked, follow recipe below, no matter which beans you are using.
Start with organic vegetables
Add parmigiano reggiano rind
- olive oil for cooking
- 1 T butter
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
- 1 fennel bulb, sliced
- 1/2” slice pancetta, diced
- Bay leaf
- Few sprigs of fresh thyme (1/2 t if dry)
- Few sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped finely (1/2 t if dry)
- 2 T Italian parsley, chopped finely
- 2 cups cooked beans
- 2-4 cups chicken broth
- Parmigiano reggiano rind
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- Crushed Chili Pepper (optional)
Optional: Add some small pasta macaroni, cooking right in the pot. Adjust liquid for this.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil for drizzling on soup
- Parmigiano reggiano at the tableDirections
In heavy bottomed pot, melt butter olive oil, and saute each vegetable, adding one at a time, cooking 2-3 minutes in this order.
Onion, carrots, celery, fennel, pancetta.
Add garlic, stir for a minute, being careful not to brown garlic. Add Beans, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, cheese rind, salt pepper and just enough broth to cover beans. Cook for about 30 minutes, and add more broth as needed. Keep on simmer another 15 minutes, just until vegetables are cooked through. Take out cheese rind. Emulsify or use blender, approximately 75%, more if you like.
Season to taste with sea salt, freshly ground pepper.
Serve at table with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, extra virgin olive oil.
Toasted Italian Bread
Mâche, glisted with olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon, salt, pepper
Prosciutto di Parma (optional)
Slice bread thinly. Toast in toaster. Cover with dressed mache.
Wrap prosciutto around the bread with mache.
Serve with bean soup.