Hearty White Bean Soup
2 cups dried Great Northern beans
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large Vidalia onion; chopped
1 leek; chopped, white and pale green parts only
1 large tomato; seeded and chopped
2 medium carrots; chopped
2 ribs celery; chopped
6 cloves garlic; chopped
4 ounces bacon; diced
2 quarts vegetable (or chicken) stock; plus more if needed
1 tablespoon fresh thyme; chopped
1/2 cup Heavy cream
Coarse salt; to taste
Fresh ground black pepper; to taste
Place beans in a large pot with enough water to cover beans by 2 inches, soak overnight. Drain beans. Using a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Saute onion, leek, tomato, carrots, celery, garlic and bacon, stirring frequently, until vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes. Add beans, vegetable stock and thyme. Bring soup to boil, reduce heat to medium low. Cover and simmer until beans are tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.
Using a blender or a food processor fitted with a blade attachment, working in batches, puree soup until smooth. Return soup to pot. Add cream and if needed, additional stock to thin soup. Season with salt and pepper.
If you have one, use a hand immersion blender to puree the soup right in the cooking pot--no mess, no fuss! (I love my Kitchen-Aid Hand Blender)
A bowl of this soup, a nice green salad, and a loaf of warm homemade bread, make a well-rounded meal. If you're serving people who must have meat every time they eat, a plate of nice hearty sausages (such as bratwurst or kielbasa) could be grilled or pan-fried and served along with the soup. Or thickly slice the sausages on a diagonal and set several slices right on top of each bowl of soup.
To make it a celebration of spring. For those fortunate enough to have access to the first vegetables of the season, you might consider making this recipe using half the beans and twice the number of vegetables--all baby versions. Only pureeing about 1/3 of it, so that the chunks of individual vegetables remained more visible, absolutely splendid!
The soup keeps well, refrigerated, for up to three days. It tends to thicken further upon resting, so you may want to stir in some additional liquid when you reheat it.