Hearty Tuscan Bean Soup loaded with white beans, carrots, and tomatoes, and drizzled with rosemary olive oil.
One of my favorite childhood soups was Campbell's Bean and Bacon soup. My mother, who became a good cook over time, lacked the confidence when I was young, and likely the time, to delve into making soup from scratch. This was long before we learned about the nutritional compromises we were making, so we had stacks of Campbell's canned soups on hand at any given time - half of which were Bean and Bacon.
I was recently challenged to create a soul warming dish. You might think I would slide into my parent's deep southern roots to make something with grits or biscuits, but the first food I thought of was this hearty soup. Before you laugh, I'll have you know it's a Classic Campbell's Soup, but I agree it doesn't resonate as a "soul" warming food - which means to me a food connected to a particular culture, tradition, or heritage.
Unless you look at the soups of Italy, one of which looks an awful lot like my Campbell's childhood friend.
After all, Italy is not a country of refined, delicate soups that have been triple strained to get a velvety texture. To the contrary, Italian soups have opinions, and openly flex their muscles. Think Earnest Hemingway, defined by heft and texture. If partially puréed, the ingredients are never annihilated into the beige silk of a Vichyssoise. In Tuscany, you see the beans, celery and carrot, and taste each of them. There's no subterfuge by blending in cream, generally; what you see is what you get.
It's interesting to me that while so many of Italy's soups were shaped long before there was a unified Italy, this heartiness is a trait they tend to all share. And yet there are subtle differences. Trade between regions was frequently halted by ongoing skirmishes, wars, shifting political alliances, and the physical realities of weather and geography, which limited food sources to what was raised and grown within the region. Over the centuries, soups - a popular way to maximize and stretch food in times of scarcity - were shaped by this, and in Tuscany it was common to add beans to soups. Two such soups that we are familiar with today are Pasta e Fagioli and Tuscan Bean Soup, the latter hauntingly similar to the aforementioned Campbell's Bean and Bacon delicacy.
Before you point it out, I'll admit right up front this is not a completely traditional Tuscan Bean Soup since it lacks bits of smokey, thickly-sliced bacon - which of course negates the Campbell's experience as well. Just so you know, I went back and forth on this crucial matter - I'm a fan of flavoring soups with bacon - and I wanted to be authentic, but in the end I decided to keep it vegetarian to allow the pure bean, tomato, and vegetable flavors to come through unmuted. And frankly I wanted a vegetarian soup instead of a wimpy vegetarian soup. To balance the soup, I added a little more tomato than normally called for, and slipped a little harissa and balsamic vinegar in to increase the fullness of the umami flavors.
One of the ingredients for this soup is harissa. You can purchase it in most grocery stores, typically in the ethnic foods aisle, or make it yourself. If you're interested, here's how to make harissa in your own kitchen. It has lots of uses, and make a great holiday or hostess gift.
One thing I should note: my finishing touches of a flurry of grated parmesan cheese, and the rosemary oil drizzle add quite a bit to the layers of flavors in the soup, and I highly recommend their inclusion in your version. So if you haven't made rosemary olive oil yet, here's your chance. And you can serve it alongside a hunk of bread for dipping too 🙂
For another hearty bean soup with Mediterranean roots, check out this Ashe Mast soup, also known as Persian Yogurt Soup. It has grated fennel and onion, and includes both yellow lentils and chickpeas.
Tuscan Bean Soup with Rosemary Oil
- 1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup chopped celery about 3 stalks
- 1 large leek sliced in half, and then crosswise into short ribbons (about 1 ½ cups)
- 2 cups chopped yellow onion 1 medium-large onion
- ½ cup chopped carrot
- ¾ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
- ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
- 2 tablespoons harissa
- 2 cups cooked white beans, either Navy or Cannelloni Beans work well
- 24 ounces vegetable broth, divided
- ¾ cup crushed tomatoes I used San Marzano canned tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- ½ - 1 teaspoon lemon juice to taste
- Parmesan cheese, optional
- Rosemary Flavored Olive Oil, optional
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a pot large enough to accommodate a large pot of soup. Add the celery, leeks, onion, carrots, salt, and dried herbs. Sauté until the carrot is slightly softened, and the onions are starting to stick to the bottom of the pan. The mixture should be very fragrant.
- Use a wooden spoon to form a well in the middle of the vegetables, revealing about 3 inches of the pot. Place the harissa on the pot surface and stir for 1 minute. It should start to become paste-like. Mix into the rest of the vegetables.
- Add the cooked beans, 16 ounces of the broth, the tomatoes and the balsamic vinegar. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Using a submersible blender, whirl the soup around for about 1 minute to slightly puree. If you don't have one, just transfer one cup of the soup to a blender or food processor and purée. Stir it back into the soup in the pot.
- Stir in the last eight ounces of broth, or more if desired. Add a little lemon juice, to taste, to sharpen the flavors.
- Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and Rosemary Olive Oil
Oh Susan, I love that you said "Italian soups have opinions, and openly flex their muscles. Think Earnest Hemingway, defined by heft and texture." - Brilliant! I have a thing for texture. I do like creamy however I know for sure that certain soups need that robust character that you speak of. I absolutely enjoyed your post today - with or without the bits of smokey, thickly-sliced bacon! Happy Sunday Supper!
Choc Chip Uru
This soup has so much flavour and Italian awesomeness running through it 🙂
I'm loving it!
Choc Chip Uru
I do very much enjoy bean soups. They are so filling and one bowl with some crusty bread is all you need for a hearty meal. I like that you added more tomato because I also think it brings the right flavor to the mix.
This Soup looks amazing and reminds me of something that I would enjoy in Portugal. I love olive oil but have not tried a Rosemary Olive Oil... on my must try now! Thank you for sharing this recipe during #SundaySupper!
Yeah, my family had a lot of canned soups too, it was just easier back then. Yours soup looks great.
Lane @ Supper for a Steal
What a great sounding soup. I love beans and the addition of rosemary olive oil, perfect!
Tammi @ Momma's Meals
Anything that has beans in it is for me!! Love anything flavored Tuscan too! Great addition to this weeks theme!!
Bobbi's Kozy Kitchen
You have successfully made my tummy grumble!! I can't wait to make this!!
Paula @ Vintage Kitchen
Fantastic soup, I love that it has italian flavors! I especially like them for their rusticity when they cook. The parmesan and oil drizzle are perfect!
That bean and bacon soup is my wife's fav! I can't wait to make THIS bean soup and surprise her with how fabulous homemade can be!
I have lots of great memories of Campbell's from when I was young, so I completely understand. And I do love those Tuscan bean soups, so I know I'd adore this one. Even though I do love bacon, I've made a vegetarian version or two before in which I used some smoked paprika to impart a little of that smoky flavor that the bacon brings with great success. Your version sounds SO delicious!
I love the addition of the rosemary oil!! The whole thing looks amazing!!
I love beans and this soup looks like the perfect comfort food to warm us up!!Love the rosemary oil too 🙂
This sounds AMAZING. Pass me some crusty bread and I can eat a entire pot of this 🙂
I just want to take the first spoon and scoop up that mound of Parmesan cheese.
What a beautiful, hearty soup! I love it!
Sarah Reid, RHNC (@jo_jo_ba)
Can you believe that in a family of Italians I'm the only one who likes this?? More for me!
It's amazing how simple toppings like a little olive oil and cheese can take a great soup and make it even better. This looks delicious!
This sounds wonderful! Thanks for all the interesting history. I will have to try this soup. Thanks for sharing!
I think everyone has a campbell's memory from their childhood. Mine would probably be the chicken noodle soup. I'm so glad you made a fancy bean soup. You have made this soup into something else with the addition of the rosemary oil and the cheese and balsamic vinegar and the balsamic. What a soup!
oops the last one was suppose to be harrissa. I got a little ahead of myself. heehee
If I ate beans, I'd be all over this soup. It looks wonderful!
Yum! I love a good soup. I don't even mind that it's nearly Summer. Loving that you made your own rosemary olive oil. We made olive oil at work the other week with a slow juicer. Very interesting!
Kare @ Kitchen Treaty
Yes! Campbell's bean with bacon soup is *total* comfort food and was my favorite soup as a kid. Since becoming a vegetarian I've often wondered how I might be able to create a vegetarian version at home, but hadn't ever gotten around to it, and also told myself that since bacon was a main ingredient, it might be tough to replicate ... but I wonder how much actual bacon it really has, anyway?
This soup really does remind me of the Campbell's version, looks just like it! Can't wait to try it.
Martin D. Redmond
This soup looks amazing. I've never made rosemary oil, but will have to give it a try! I'm definitely going to make this one!
Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic
I love cannellini beans in soup. I can imagine how wonderful this tastes with the rosemary oil!
I love bean soup! Thanks for sharing!
I love the flavour combos in this bean soup