‘White Beans’ are one of the most popular beans eaten in France. And one of the most popular ways to eat them is as a soup.
In France, they come in two varieties: coco variety is used in soups and the traditional cassoulet stew, and the longer michelet variety is more frequently eaten fresh. For this recipe, you can substitute cannellinni, great northern, or navy beans; but if you can find the rich, creamy French white cocos, this soup will be even more delicious.
Spread beans in a single layer on a large sheet tray; pick through to remove and discard any small stones or debris and then rinse well.
2 cups of white beans (cannellini, navy or great northern)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled (whole)
2 dried bay leaves
6 cups of water
4 tablespoons crème fraîche (or substitute sour cream)
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
Optional: 2 strips of pancetta bacon, finely diced, for topping
Soak the beans using one of these two methods:
Traditional soaking method: In a bowl, cover beans with 4 inches of cold water, cover and set aside at room temperature for at least 8 hours.
Quick soaking method: In a large pot, cover beans with 3 inches of cold water, then bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, then remove pot from heat, and allow to sit, covered, for 1 hour.
Drain soaked beans and transfer to a large pot (discarding the cooking water).
Add 6 cups of cold water, onions, and garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add bay leaves, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender (about 1 hour). Skim off and discard any foam on the surface.
When beans are tender, discard bay leaves, add the crème fraîche, and mix (I use a hand blender). Depending on how thick you like your soup, you may want to add more water.
Ladle into bowls, and sprinkle 1/2 tsp of lemon juice on the top of the soup. Optional: sprinkle with pancetta bacon just before serving.
Note: the French often add other things to the mix, like stalks of parsley (leaves removed!), celery sticks, or shallots. These can be added with the bay leaves, and removed at the same time. They add a subtle, wonderful flavor to this soup.