Next to lentils, cooking with white beans is my second favorite way to create a protein rich meal. Especially in a wintery white bean soup with simple down to earth flavors. White beans are paired with earthy shiitake mushrooms in a warm and comforting bowl of soup that is super easy to prepare. For this soup, I prefer to use dried beans for their–I think–superior flavor and texture, but if you are in hurry and want to get something on the table in 20 minutes, then using canned beans is a great alternative (especially if already love them!).
Not only are white beans high in protein but actually most mushrooms have a relatively high protein content too – that’s why they are often referred to as the “meat” of the veg world. And interestingly enough, all mushrooms have to be cooked in order for us to fully receive their nutritional value, which include protein, B vitamins, and minerals. Good to know!
I made this soup with a pinch of saffron, not because I find it intoxicatingly addictive like some people do, but rather I like the unique aroma it instils upon any dish. It has a subtle flavor that is difficult to describe – I really have no words for it!
I picked some very special Persian saffron on a trip to Istanbul. Apparently it’s the best in the world and since saffron, like many spices, loses pungency over time, I’ve wanted to make use of my prized stash while it’s still fresh! If you don’t have saffron on hand, don’t fret, I bet this white bean soup would be terrific by adding some diced tomatoes or finishing it off with some freshly grated parmesan to add a little more richness of flavor. Go ahead even through in some leafy greens at the end for a really healthy and balanced meal.
By the way have you ever wondered how saffron is actually produced? Well, this Discovery TV video can help give you an idea of why saffron is such an expensive addition to the kitchen spice rack. Check it out:
Preparing Dried Beans
Preparing the beans takes a little foresight, so plan ahead. You’ll need to soak the beans overnight in a bowl of water with a ratio of at least 3 cups water per 1 cup dried beans. This will yield you about 2 1/2 cups cooked and will give you faster cooking beans the next day. Depending on how well they were soaked they will take 1 1/2 – 2 hours to cook. Because of this, I always make extra and store them in the refrigerator in the remaining cooking liquid along with a splash of olive oil and a dash of salt. They keep for up to 5 days this way. Like I said, if you are pressed for time, go ahead, use canned beans.
Shiitake and White Bean Soup
1 cup large dried white beans (butter beans), soaked in water overnight (or 2 cans of cannellini or butter beans, rinsed and drained)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
60 g Parma di prosciutto, finely chopped (about 5-6 slices)
150 g shiitake mushrooms, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dried bread crumbs
1 cup vegetable broth (250 ml)
1 1/2 cups of water (375 ml)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
pinch of saffron threads
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley, as garnish
1. Drain and rinse the soaked beans. In a large pot, add the beans and cover with 4-5 cm of water. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and cook, partially covered, until the beans are tender, but still hold their shape. This takes about 1,5 hours or more, so plan ahead. The beans should be cooked but not mushy. Drain and set aside.
2. In a large deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the prosciutto, mushrooms and garlic and cook, stirring then occasionally until the mushrooms start to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bread crumbs. Add the beans, broth, water, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add the saffron threads, season with salt and pepper and simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Taste and add more seasoning if desired. Sprinkle the soup with parsley and serve. Enjoy!