Recipe of the Week: French White Bean Soup

‘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.

Bon Appétit!

Favorite Books on French Food…perfect for cocooning this fall

Some people have a weakness for shoes. Some can’t stop buying earrings. I admit to going slightly overboard in my search for the perfect winter hat (I own a lot of chic woolen hats that look amazingly similar).

But my real addiction is books. And lately I’ve fallen in love with books about French food. I should put this in context, and explain that (until recently) I only owned a single French cookbook: La Cuisinière Bretonne, which my French husband gave me years ago in hopes I’d suddenly turn into a Canadian version of Julia Child, cooking up his traditional Breton dishes with flair. It never quite happened: we had kids, I was working, and life was too busy…

It was only after we moved to France and I discovered French cuisine that I stumbled across all of the wonderful books out there about…moving to France and discovering French food. Turns out it is a well-worn theme in the foodie literature. Still, there are some gems out there, and today I thought I’d share a few. It’s raining hard and just above freezing here in Vancouver, and the only thing I want to do is curl up in bed with a good book. So here’s a selection from my fall reading list of favorite books about French food…the cookbooks I’ll leave for another post.

~ Adam Gopnik is a New Yorker columnist, and one of my favorite writers on all things French. His Paris to the Moon (about the years spent living in Paris as the New Yorker correspondent), published a decade ago, is still one of the best books I’ve read about living in France. His new book, The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food, is a collection of food articles from the New Yorker (with a few new gems, apparently). Can’t wait to read this.

~ Having spent years as a pastry chef in Alice Water’s Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, David Lebovitz decides to pack up and move to Paris. The result is a light-hearted treat, packed with dessert recipes and amusing stories: The Sweet Life in Paris. Reminds me of those meringue-filled macarons that the French love so much: sweet, breezy, light, and just right. Just finished this!

~ La Tartine Gourmande is a fantastic food blog by Beatrice Peltre, a French expat living in the US. Her new book is like a hybrid between a memoir and a cookbook (for which she composes the recipes and takes the photos…all the while parenting the lovely Lulu — how does she do it?). Nice to read about someone traveling the other direction, when most of the books on French food have us heading ‘across the pond’.

~ Lunch in Paris, With Recipes is a smart and sassy love story about Elizabeth Bard’s romance with a decidedly unconventional Frenchman. (Like Elizabeth, I also fell in love and moved to France with someone from Brittany, so this book felt sometimes uncomfortably close to home). Quirky recipes, a love story (with a slight tinge of Cosmo girl), and amusing asides into French culture; who could ask for more?

Happy reading! And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the books!