Cannellini Bean Soup With Beef, Roasted Eggplant and Orange Gremolata

by formerchef on December 7, 2011

Post image for Cannellini Bean Soup With Beef, Roasted Eggplant and Orange Gremolata

Last week was one of the most personally challenging in recent memory. You know the expression “when life hands you lemons…”? Last week, life threw oranges the size of softballs at me. The week included the death of our beloved cat Basil (ode below), a wicked cold which left me gasping for breath (still am), and hurricane force winds (in Los Angeles!) which caused damage to our roof, left debris all over our yard and left us without power for 36 hours, all while I was working extra long hours. Any one of those things alone could leave a girl searching the heavens and asking “Why me?”, yet all together, I just had to laugh (after I stopped crying) and say “Seriously??

The last thing I wanted to do was cook, and for the most part I didn’t. But when I read about the “Souperbowl” challenge my mother and some twitter friends started, my mind kept going to how I could turn this month’s 3 random ingredients into a soup, even in bed at at 4am, listening to the DWP workers outside repair the live power line which had fallen in our back yard (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that one).

Chefs are no stranger to the “mystery box” concept for creating food. This is not just a construct of reality TV, this is how I created many a nightly special when I was a chef. I’d go into the walk-in refrigerator in the restaurant and see what needed to move that day or what I’d bought as a seasonal special and create something out of it with whatever else I had on hand. I got pretty good at it and was successful most of the time. To this day, I regularly do this for dinner out of my own fridge and pantry.

This first Souperbowl Challenge was to make a soup which contained the following ingredients picked at random; orange peel, beans, eggplant with an Italian theme. I felt the orange peel would be the stickler in the recipe so I started with that. The first thing which came to mind was gremolata, the traditional garnish for ossobuco, made from lemon zest, chopped parsley and garlic. Then I thought about an osso buco type stew, but I really wanted a broth based soup and fortunately found some home made beef broth in my freezer when the power went out.

Eventually I settled on a soup with beef, cannellini beans, and roasted eggplant chunks and was thrilled with the way it came out. It cooks it about an hour, which is nice if you are in a hurry. Finally, while I enjoyed the beef in this dish, I think it could be left out and made with vegetable stock for a flavorful and hearty vegetarian/vegan soup.

Cannellini Bean Soup with Beef, Roasted Eggplant and Orange Gremolata


Cannellini Bean Soup With Beef, Roasted Eggplant and Orange Gremolata Recipe
Printable recipe in PDF

1 regular large eggplant (about 1 lb), cut into 1″ cubes
1.5 lbs chuck roast, cut into 1″ cubes
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 small onions (8 oz), small dice
2 carrots (8 oz), small dice
2 stalks celery (5 oz), small dice
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp dried basil
8 cups of beef stock
2 cans cannellini beans (15.5 oz cans or 3 cups cooked beans), drained and rinsed*
salt and pepper

*I used canned beans because I could not find dried cannellini and I had limited time. You could certainly use dried, though the soup will have to cook much longer unless you cook the beans separately first.

Orange Gremolata:
1 bunch Italian (flat leaf) parsley, chopped fine
1 tsp minced garlic
2 oranges, grated zest only (about 2.5 Tbsp zest)
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the eggplant into 1 inch cubes and toss with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil. Spread the eggplant out evenly on a sheet pan. When the oven is hot, put the eggplant in to roast until it’s browned, about 25 minutes. When it’s done, set it aside; it will be added to the soup at the end to maintain its form and texture.

Cannellini Bean Soup with Beef, Roasted Eggplant and Orange Gremolata

While the eggplant is roasting, cut up the beef and vegetables and get all the other soup ingredients ready.

Heat a large, heavy bottomed, soup pot (I’ve had the All Clad 6 qt stock pot shown in these photos for over a decade, and I love it). Add the remaining 1 Tbsp of olive oil to the pot and add in the diced beef. Season with a couple of pinches of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook until the beef begins to brown.

Cannellini Bean Soup with Beef, Roasted Eggplant and Orange Gremolata

Add in the diced carrots, onions and celery and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add in the minced garlic and dried herbs and cook for another 2 minutes.

Pour in the 8 cups of beef stock and bring to a simmer. Add the drained and rinsed beans and let simmer gently for 20-30 minutes. You don’t want this to boil rapidly because you run the risk of the cooked beans breaking. If you get any foam (from the fat in the beef) just skim it off with a ladle.

Right before you are ready to serve the soup, stir in the roasted eggplant.

Garnish each bowl of soup with a teaspoon of orange gremolata.

Orange Gremolata


Ode to Basil 2001-2011

Basil 2001-2011

Basil 2001-2011

My husband found Basil, along with his sister Rosemary, when they were about six weeks old, in our back yard under a rosemary bush. He called me at work and said, “Honey…” and I knew that was it.

Basil was a special boy; very loving, inquisitive and playful. He is the only cat I’ve ever know to actively ask for play and was always waiting at the door when I came home from work. He would also start in the kitchen, work up to a full gallop though the house, into our bedroom, and run across our heads at 4am if he didn’t think there was enough food in his bowl. We started putting out food before bed. Did I tell you he was smart? He had us well trained.

Back in August I wrote a post about life’s priorities when Basil needed surgery to remove his left eye because there was a mass behind it. The surgery went well, but he never fully recovered. The tumor they removed turned out to be cancer; lymphoma. We decided to try treatment (chemotherapy) and while some of it helped a little, he never went into remission and continued to decline. Last week he suddenly lost control of his back legs which the vet said was neurological and not something from which he would recover. It was then we decided with very heavy hearts the fight was over.

Basil is greatly missed for his big purrs, spotted belly, five foot leaps in play, lap naps, and the unconditional love  he gave us every day he was here.

1 Janis December 7, 2011 at 7:04 am

I love your soup. I hope that it made your heart and your cold feel a little better. Basil looks so so sweet. I know how hard it is to lose a loved pet. It is hard. Here is a virtual hug.


2 formerchef December 7, 2011 at 7:05 am

Thanks Janis. Yes, warm soup makes everything just a little bit better. 🙂

3 Sharon Miro December 7, 2011 at 7:35 am

Oh, my. I should have come over for the soup! It looks wonderful. And Basil, well. my heart weeps for you and David. The picture of Basil & Rosemary in the bathroom snuggled in the corner came up on my computer nthis morning…

4 Amanda December 7, 2011 at 8:49 am

What a great idea for those ingredients. I’m going to have to give this one a go. I too am sorry about your kitty. It’s never an easy thing to have to make that decision.

5 Jenn @LeftoverQueen December 7, 2011 at 9:52 am

This looks so good! 🙂 I love all the combinations!

6 Jenn @LeftoverQueen December 7, 2011 at 9:54 am

I don’t know why, but when I click on the comments link on your post about Basil, I am re-directed here…but I wanted to give my deepest sympathies for the loss of your beautiful brave boy. 🙁

7 judi December 7, 2011 at 11:32 am

I gasped when I saw Basil as he is a duplicate of our oscar. How sad I’d be without him. Thank you for making the choices you made that would work for Basil and your family. Tough decisions. I send you the joy of memories, the importance of grief and your eventual renewal. Thank you for your wonderful posts and recipes.

8 angela@spinachtiger December 7, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Sorry you had such a hard week. I totally understand. My poor husband had to drive a truck of music equipment to Alabama and backed up over a cement pole today. Sometimes things just happen. He would love to come home tonight to this bowl of soup. You did a great job. The gremolata is genius.

9 MarcSeattle December 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I am so sorry about Basil. What a beautiful ode to him. Gorgeous photos. I know how much love you have for him and am terribly sorry for your loss.

BTW, the soup looks great and your photos are spectacular!


10 Lynn McKee December 7, 2011 at 8:41 pm

You’re the best honey. Thank you for sharing your great passions for food and love, for showing us strength, and making us laugh. Your kitty is handsome. Your recipes are outstanding. Your heart is huge. Sending big hugs. And much love.

11 Dave from The Longest Way Home December 7, 2011 at 9:07 pm

My condolences for your loss. It was heart tugging to read your sentiments towards Basil. Made even more powerful by the wonderful photos of Basil from kitten to cat. Such memories will live on your hearts.

12 Kent @ No Vacation Required December 8, 2011 at 5:37 am

Oh… our hearts hurt for you. Hope your weeks get better.

(And that soup looks great!)

13 Myra December 8, 2011 at 8:25 am

I am also so sorry about Basil’s passing. I always find comfort in soup; either by it’s smell bubbling on the stove, or holding a cup of it in my hands. I like your idea of combining the Italian parsley, garlic and orange zest.

14 Willow December 8, 2011 at 8:39 am

I can well imagine your loss, and the fact that its so new… its been 5 years and still I mourn the loss of my Finley. Poor Rosemary.

It’s gracious of you to post this recipe, and a reminder that life goes on, even when our hearts are heavily ladened in sadness.

Peace to you and your family.

15 Leonor Miller December 8, 2011 at 9:51 am

Wonderful recipe! But I have decided this year to try to be vegetarian. I cannot use beef in this recipe. can you suggest me some substitute?

16 formerchef December 9, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Leonor- For a vegetarian version, I would substitute vegetable stock, leave out the beef and increase the eggplant by 50%.

17 formerchef December 9, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Thanks everyone for all the nice comments about Basil. Our hearts are still heavy, but every day gets a little easier.

18 BakerTiffany December 10, 2011 at 8:36 pm

This is the great thing about you that you’re so open to your meat recipes becoming vegetarian. I’ve sent so many vegetarian-curious readers here because of it. You’re awesome.

I have been remiss from Twitter that I didn’t hear that Basil is gone. I’m so sorry for your loss.

19 formerchef December 10, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Tiffany, that’s because while I do love my meat, I dabble with vegetarianism all the time and I know how difficult it can seem to find tasty food. Thanks for the appreciation. 🙂

20 SofritoGringo December 15, 2011 at 6:02 am

I love this recipe! I’m also incredibly pleased that we came up with similar ideas but arrived at them from opposite directions 🙂 I definitely want to leave the skin on the eggplant next time and cube & roast them like you did — I missed having more color in *my* soup.

As for Basil, he was beautiful and I’m SO sorry for your loss! I love my furbabies intensely so… many hugs to you!!!

21 formerchef December 15, 2011 at 6:59 am

Cool that you did gremolata too! I guess great minds think alike. 😉

22 Karen | Divine Dinner Party December 25, 2011 at 12:45 pm

This is one of those soups you would want to have after a har day’s work. It sure looks very flavorful and comforting. Basil may have crossed the rainbow bridge but he’ll always be with you and your family. Merry Chrsitmas 🙂

23 ck December 25, 2011 at 11:18 pm

The recipe looks lovely and I think I shall definitely try a vegetarian version of it. What a week you had – it must have taken some strength to keep going after all of that. And Basil. What a beautiful boy, I am so sorry for your loss. I think all we can do at these sad times is feel happy for the love we were able to give them and the life we have given them (Poppy was a stray who was quite badly hurt when she chose me as her mum). It was so good of you to provide all the treatment for him and also to know when to end his suffering. I would do the same for Poppy as you did. You must be a very good person and I am glad to have made your acquaintance on the blogosphere. Best wishes from me and Poppy.

24 Kristi Rimkus December 27, 2011 at 6:58 pm

I’m so sorry you had such a horrible time. I’m a kitty lover myself, so I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope things are better for you now and the new year brings you good things.

25 beany December 29, 2011 at 10:31 am

seeing this late but sending my sympathies about basil. he had a good home with you but i’m sorry he passed.
wishing you a good new year.

26 BaaBaaRaa December 31, 2011 at 1:39 pm

I discovered you through your Kick-Ass Bloody Mary Mix recipe…. FABULOUS!!! and it will become a regular at my family’s Christmas and special occasion brunch. I used the tomatoes I canned from my garden to make the tomato juice, which made it even more special. Next summer I will make sure to add tomato juice to my canning routine. That recipe led me to join you on Facebook. But now you have also touched my heart with your ode to Basil. RIP Basil. What a lucky cat. I just lost my own cat, Dooley, age 14, a few weeks ago. I still think I hear him scratching from inside my kitchen cabinets, where he loved to hide, or see him out of the corner of my eye wanting to come in after only a few minutes outside, or almost tripping me while blocking my path for a few pets. It has inspired me to write my own Ode to Dooley. Thanks and Happy New Year! P.S. I am a vegetarian… so I hope you share some veggie recipes.

27 formerchef December 31, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Wow! I bet the Bloody Marys were awesome with your home canned tomatoes. So sorry to hear about Dooley. There have been a few times where we’ve thought we’ve heard Basil here too. I have lots of Vegetarian, Vegan and “veg-friendly” recipes here on the blog. Click on one of the tags listed in the right side column to see them! 🙂

28 Aida January 3, 2012 at 2:24 am

I am so sorry to hear about Basil…truly I am…I lost my cat Coco recently too and he was the joy of my house. I would take comfort from the fact that Basil had such a good life before his passing and with such a good family. Not many pet owners would do as much but you did. God Bless you and Give you strength to bear this loss.

29 Teresa January 3, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Kristina, just read this via your post to me on FB. Tears happening, yes, but what great ‘parents’ you were to this beloved boy. As you know, I feel your pain and ‘get it’. He’s a happy, and pain-free boy now. You did the right thing.
Heart with you.

30 Astrid Sanschagrin January 19, 2012 at 11:41 pm

I never thought that orange peels could be added as interesting ingredient in the soup. I like the roasted eggplants, which is included in the ingredients, since it gives delightful taste on my tastebuds. I am sorry to hear of your cat’s loss. Basil reminds me of my first cat because they have the same color. Basil will surely be missed by his loved ones.

31 Jack Martin February 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Basil looks like he was a pretty good dude.

As for the soup, it looks pretty yummy. My mom used to make a great soup with eggplant, so I would say it’s always a good choice.

The gremolata looks good. Not sure I’ve ever had that. Or maybe I just didn’t know the name haha.

32 Katie Martin February 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm

I’ve lost a lot of pets in my life so I definitely know how hard it is. I’m sure Basil knew how much you loved him.
This soup looks really delicious. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to try the gremolata, especially since I’m allergic to garlic and I’m sure there’s not a good replacement for it. But I’m very excited to try out the rest of it, especially because I’m always looking for new recipes to use eggplant. Soup is such a great way to combine seemingly non-matched ingredients, isn’t it? Thanks for the inspiration.

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