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Rustic soup brings back warm family memories

By Wolfgang Puck, Tribune Content Agency on

I first learned to cook in a kitchen ruled by two strong, loving women: my mother and grandmother. They were both amazing cooks, and all these years later my mouth still waters when I think about the food they prepared.

They weren't fancy about our daily food. Though they both knew how to prepare the finest traditional Austrian dishes, they ran our home smartly and frugally. They grew most of their own vegetables, relying largely on fresh produce straight from our home garden along with smart pantry staples.

Among their most reliable staples were dried beans. Of course, they grew most of the beans they used. I remember scarlet runner beans that they let dry on the vines in the summer sun before shelling and storing them. There were white beans like cannellini, too, since we lived so close to the Italian border. And I'm sure they bought more beans at local street markets.

For such an inexpensive ingredient, dried beans provide generous flavor and texture, not to mention abundant healthy nutrients such as B vitamins, potassium, complex carbohydrates and fiber, along with good amounts of protein but little fat and no cholesterol. More than just a great accompaniment, they're robust and flavorful enough to serve as a main dish in their own right.

Take, for example, my recipe for white bean soup with root vegetables. With generous quantities of root vegetables, a little bacon for extra flavor (though vegetarians and vegans could leave that out), and optional garnishes of sliced cooked sausage and freshly grated Parmesan (also easy to omit for those who don't eat meat or dairy), it's definitely a soup that adds up to a meal in itself.

With very little effort on your part, my recipe -- which you can make with any variety of dried white beans -- yields a generous quantity: 3 quarts (3 liters), the equivalent of a dozen 1-cup (250-mL) servings. So, unless you're feeding a crowd, you can refrigerate or freeze leftovers to reheat for later.


Add some warm, crusty bread, a salad of flavorful leaves like kale, arugula or endive, or just a simple slaw of shredded cabbage and carrots, and you have a perfectly satisfying dinner. It's the sort of meal that will make you feel as if you're dining by the fireplace.

Once you've made the soup a few times, feel free to start experimenting. Use different kinds of beans, vegetables and seasonings. Add a smoked ham hock or turkey leg, if you like. In other words, make the recipe your own, reflecting whatever you have available that's in season.

In other words, cook like my mother and grandmother did.



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