We’re Cooking: White Bean and Vanilla Soup

Yes, it sounds odd….and yes….it was a mistake, but man was this good!

The other evening we were expecting the head of Latitude Productions, the company Gary and Lascaux Films are about to make a film with, for dinner.  We love him and have had several dinners with him, so there wasn’t any pressure, I just got into a bit of a time crunch.  I just haven’t gotten my rhythm back from the Napa experience and was running a bit late for everything all week.  In a dash I ran to the store to grab a few needed ingredients to reproduce the Tuscan White Bean soup I had made for Gary a few weeks ago.  The beans were through their first phase so just needed some chicken stock and cream, or for me fat-free half and half.  I like using fat-free half and half, it gives good texture without all the fat of real cream.

I dash home and quickly get the veggies sauteing, add the beans and stock and simmer, simmer, simmer until the beans are tender.  I am getting ready to puree the soup and make a quick salad just as our guest arrived.  We open wine, have a little chit-chat and I get back to cooking, now in even more of a rush to get our dinner on the table.  Puree, puree, puree….back in the pot, whisk in the half and half and give a quick taste…that’s funny, it tastes sweet? Hum….the veggies did get a good caramelization on them before I added the beans and the stock, and the beans can be a little sweet sometimes.

It tasted awesome though!  A little extra salt and a few twists of black pepper and a dash of parsley for garnish and we sat down for dinner.  Gary and Curtis noticed an underlying layer of something as well, though not as pronounced as I had, but both quickly dug in and enjoyed two bowls.  It could have just been my taste buds so I didn’t think twice about it.  The next day I reheated the remnants for Gary to take to the office, adding a bit more stock and half and half.  Again, that sweetness….but again, it was delicious.

Later that night I was rearranging some things in the fridge and moved the bottle of fat-free half and half, and looked at the package.  It was indeed fat-free, it was also French Vanilla flavored!  SERIOUSLY!  I screamed with laughter and gave a working late Gary a quick call to give him the same laugh.  Where he proclaimed it was delicious.

In our world today we are seeing vanilla pop up in more and more savory dishes.  Just last week we had a seared sea scallop with fresh corn and a vanilla oil drizzle paired with Far Niente Chardonnay at their annual release party; and you will often find some use of vanilla in one of Chef Stephan Pyles savory dishes at his namesake restaurant.  Vanilla gives a layer of flavor to a savory dish that you can’t quite nail down what it is, but you do know you want to eat more of it.  Who would have thought such a huge mistake could turn out so tasty.  Follow the jump for the recipe. 


White Bean and Vanilla Soup
5 cups white beans (like Navy beans, Cannellini beans)
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 medium sized red onions – roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves – smashed and skin removed
3 celery stalks – roughly chopped
3 carrots – roughly chopped
4 stalks fresh rosemary – about 6 inches long
2 fresh bay leaves (dried if fresh aren’t available)
7 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
6 cups good chicken stock like Cento
1  fat free, French Vanilla half and half (If you want to use cream instead use 1 cup cream and 1 tablespoon of good quality vanilla extract. You want the vanilla flavor to really be pronounced, but not completely over power the dish.)
Salt and pepper

The night before you make the soup pour the beans into a bowl and cover completely with water.  Soak overnight in the refrigerator.  The next day drain off the water and add to a pot of clean water with about 2 tablespoons salt, 1 onion, cut into chunks, 1 garlic clove, one bay leaf and the sprigs of thyme and rosemary.  Tie the thyme and rosemary with some kitchen string to keep them together and to be able to easily transfer from one pot to the other.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for about an hour or so until the beans are softened.  You could just make the soup in this pot with water, but I think browning the vegetables slightly and then cooking everything together in chicken stock instead of water makes a richer soup with more depth of flavor.  Meanwhile, add the rest of the veggies and the other bay leaf to a soup pot with the grapeseed oil and cook over medium heat until the veggies become soft and slightly caramelized.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  When the beans are soft drain off the water, reserving one or two cups of starchy water, and add the beans to the veggies with the herb bundle, the fresh parsley and the chile flakes.  Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Boil for 5 minutes then reduce to a simmer and simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the remnants of the herbs bunch and the bay leaves.  Working in batches begin to puree the soup until completely smooth.  Add back to the soup pot and add the half and half, or cream and vanilla.  Stir to incorporate.  If the soup is too thick add some of the reserved starchy water, a bit at a time, to get your desired consistency.  Season and scoop into soup bowls.  Serve with crusty bread for dipping.

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