I saw this fantastic soup on Barefoot Contessa and it's a real treat. It's a great soup for autumn time and is a wonderful way to use up some vegetables and other ingredients you may have in your refrigerator and pantry. This recipe makes a lot of soup!
1/2 pound dried white beans, such as Great Northern or cannellini (I used 2 cans of cannellini beans)
1/2 c. good olive oil, plus extra for serving
1/4 lb. large diced pancetta or smoked bacon (I used pepper bacon one time and Canadian bacon another time, both turned out great)
2 c. chopped yellow onions (about 2 onions)
1 c. chopped carrots (3 carrots)
1 c. chopped celery (3 stalks)
3 T. minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 t. crushed red pepper flakes
One 28 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes in puree, chopped (I used whole tomatoes)
4 c. coarsely chopped or shredded savoy cabbage, optional (I used Napa cabbage)
4 c. coarsely chopped kale (for kale haters, you can omit though you won't really notice it in the soup. I'm not a fan, either, but didn't find it offensive.)
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil leaves
6 c. chicken stock, preferably homemade (I used canned, low sodium, and added 2 cups because I used canned beans)
4 c. sourdough bread cubes, crusts removed (reserve crusts for strata)
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan, for serving
If using dried beans: In a large bowl, cover the beans with cold water by 1-inch and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to soak overnight in the refrigerator. Drain the beans and place them in a large pot with 8 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add 1 t. of salt and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the beans are tender. Set the beans aside to cool in their liquid.
Heat the oil in a large stock pot. Add the pancetta and onions and cook over medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the carrots, celery, garlic, 1 T. salt, the pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the tomatoes with their puree (crush the whole tomatoes with your hands first to break them up), the cabbage if using, the kale, and basil and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for another 7 to ten minutes.
Drain the beans, reserving their liquid. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree half of the beans with a little of their liquid. Add to the stockpot, along with the remaining whole beans. Pour the bean cooking liquid into a large measuring cup and add enough chicken stock to make 8 cups. Add to the soup and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
If using canned beans, rinse the beans, puree as directed above and add to the stock pot. Add the extra 2 cups of chicken stock to make up for the bean liquid not being used. Simmer as directed above.
Add the bread to the soup and simmer for 10 more minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve hot in large bowls sprinkled with Parmesan and drizzled with olive oil.