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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Ode to 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.