This deceptively simple soup base gets its depth from slow-cooked beans and a garlicky soffrito. Make it when you have a few hours, then use it to build quick soups such as White Bean Soup With Egg (see related recipe). For other variations, add 1/2 cup chopped raw (shelled) shrimp or 1/2 cup pasta, such as egg noodles, letting it cook in the soup base.
Make Ahead: The beans need to soak for at least 6 hours or overnight before cooking. Refrigerate the soup base for up to 4 days, or freeze in quart-size freezer-safe resealable plastic food storage bags for up to 6 months. Defrost in the refrigerator, or submerge sealed bags in cool water.
Yield: Makes about 3 quarts (enough for 6 servings of finished soup)
- For the beans
- 1 pound dried cannellini or other small dried white beans, soaked for at least 6 hours or overnight
- 4 quarts water
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- For the soffrito
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 large cloves garlic, cut into thin slices
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
For the beans: Drain the soaked beans, picking over them to remove any detritus.
Add the beans to a 6- to 8-quart soup pot along with the water, bay leaves and oil. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally; reduce the heat to medium or as needed to maintain a steady, gentle boil. Cook for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender. (The beans might take significantly longer to cook if they are quite old, which is sometimes the case with supermarket beans.)
Uncover and add the salt, stirring to incorporate. Cook at the same steady boil for 30 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until the beans and broth have reduced to 3 quarts. Reduce the heat as the liquid evaporates and the soup base thickens, stirring to prevent scorching.
Once the soup base has reduced, make the soffrito: Combine the oil and garlic in a small or medium skillet over medium heat; cook for about 2 minutes, shaking the skillet until the slices sizzle. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and cook for about 1 minute or until the garlic begins to take on some color.
Use a ladle to transfer a cup of the soup base from the pot to the skillet. It will quickly start to boil; stir and cook for a couple of minutes, until the garlic is very tender. Then transfer the contents of the skillet to the pot, scraping to get every bit of the soffrito; mix well and cook for about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and use immediately to create a soup. Or let the base cool completely; discard the bay leaves and transfer to containers or bags to refrigerate or freeze.
Adapted from "Lidia's Family Table," by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich (Knopf, 2004).
Tested by Joe Yonan.
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