Monday, May 17, 2010

Herbs on Demand

I have to admit that I just don’t keep up very well in this on-demand world of ours. Unlike the creators of the Six-Million Dollar Man, I don’t have the technology. On the lower-tech end of things, however, I do like to keep herb plants in containers on my porch in the warmer weather for on-demand flavor enhancement.

I usually try to keep these plants alive over the winter in a spare room, but this never works, and most of them die. That just means I get to shop for more herbs in the spring, which is what I did recently. This year, I’m trying not to go overboard and plant more than I can use, but we’ll see how that goes. Of course, as soon as I declared that spring was here, winter gave one final gasp, and I had to keep my little herb plants inside at night. I still haven’t got around to transplanting them, but I can still eat them.

I had been waiting since my previous herb plantings met their demise to make a white bean soup with lots of herbs that I came up with last year, and the few cold and rainy days we had provided the perfect opportunity. I love white beans with herbs, especially sage, rosemary and thyme, and lots of garlic never hurts such a concoction. Add the usual carrot, onion and celery and simmer it all in broth and it’s soup. But it’s more than soup, really. It’s creamy white beans and perky, flavorful herbs that were picked less than an hour before they are eaten.

Usually when I make this, the ingredient list (in my head) reads more like “a big carrot, a couple ribs of celery, some onion, a handful of herbs from the porch, some broth (chicken is a little better, but vegetable will do) and some beans. Season to taste.” Well, since I’m now excited enough about this soup to post it to The Messy Apron, I tried to put some more discreet quantities in the recipe below. You can play a little fast and loose with most of the ingredients and use whatever herbs you have or like. I used sage, chives, rosemary, thyme and a dried bay leaf. (I think the sage is absolutely essential with white beans.) The sage and chives, I minced and added directly to the broth, and the rosemary, thyme and bay leaf I tied together into a bouquet garni and removed them when the soup was done. It saves the trouble of de-leafing the thyme or having to chew on rosemary leaves, but still gets the flavors of those herbs into the soup.

I don’t suppose I really have to wait for the next cold day to make this soup again. In fact, since I cooked up a whole big bunch of dried Great Northern beans and froze what didn’t fit in the soup (you could use canned beans, but they will probably be less firm in the final product), I probably won’t wait. And I’ve got plenty more herbs just waiting to offer their services on demand.

White Bean Soup with Fresh Herbs
I like to cut the carrots, onions and celery into quite small pieces, about the size of the beans.

This herb mixture of herbs is what I used last time I made this. You can use whatever you like, but, with the exception of the bay leaf, it is best to use fresh herbs.

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup finely chopped carrot
½ cup finely chopped celery
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 3-inch sprig rosemary
3-4 6-inch thyme stems
1 dried bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced
4 cups cooked or canned white beans, such as navy or Great Northern (drained and rinsed if canned)
6 cups reduced sodium chicken broth (vegetable broth will do as well)

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and ½ teaspoon salt. Saute 5-8 minutes or until the onion is translucent and the carrot and celery are beginning to become tender.

2. Tie the rosemary, thyme and bay leaf together with a piece of kitchen twine. Add this bundle along with the sage, chives and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and boil gently for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Remove the herb bundle. Taste for salt and add more if desired.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Other recipes for on-demand herbs: Chickpea and Olive Salad with Greek Flavors

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