Home today with the twins because the tiny neighborhood parochial school they attend (because our public school is scary & we are too broke for fancy private school) was closed for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
It was cold but sunshiney, so after lunch at our favorite neighborhood cafe, we walked up East Passyunk Avenue & stopped in the new boutique foodery, Green Aisle Grocery. One bag dried heirloom cannellini beans, one jar organic bay leaves, one lemon, & two bunches of local kale = my heathen family’s Feast Day dinner for about $14, with dried beans & bay leaf to spare.
Soaking dried beans overnight is ideal, but I rarely plan that far ahead– in which case, measure out 2c of beans, sort for broken bits & rocks, rinse, put in a big pot with enough water to cover by several inches, & bring to a boil. Boil for 3-4 minutes, then cover, remove from heat, & let them sit for at least an hour. The longer the better.
[You can use canned beans, of course, & no one will think less of you for it, but dried beans, besides being far cheaper, better maintain their integrity; that is, they are less likely to turn to mush.]
Chop up 2 or 3 onions & 5 or 6 cloves of garlic (you can never have too much of either, especially during cold/flu season). Wash the kale & cut into ribbons. If the spines are extra thick/tough, strip the leaves away from the tough portion.
Heat 1/4 c or so of olive oil in a large pot (I have an enormous cast iron dutch oven which is home to all soups) over medium-high heat. Add the onions & salt them a bit. Sweat the onions until they become translucent, then add the garlic, a couple of bay leaves, cracked black pepper, some red pepper flakes. Before the garlic turns brown, add the kale, & stir & toss until the leaves are shiny & wilted. Salt a little bit more. It’s best to salt as you gone, rather all in one plop.
Drain beans (the soaking water only absorbs a trace of vitamins, but lots of the coating on the beans that can give stomach trouble, so discard), rinse, & add them to the pot. Stir, stir, stir, then add 8 or so cups of water (I add hot water from the electric kettle), enough so everything is covered by about an inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, semi-covered. Add the juice from a lemon. This is where I also usually add the rind from a wedge of Asiago or somesuch hard cheese, which I save in the freezer for soup-making — it gives the soup a little body, a little backbone, which is nice if you don’t tend toward meat stocks.
Let it simmer for a few hours until the beans are soft & creamy. Add water as it simmers, to keep everything covered by about an inch. Adjust the seasoning as you go — more salt, more pepper flakes, a little olive oil, a squeeze of lemon. Discard cheese rind & bay leaves. Serve with brown bread.
It is not an all-white meal (as recommended for this feast day) but the white beans are full of grace, indeed.