A hearty bean soup

July 03, 2010|By MICHAEL BAUER / San Francisco Chronicle

Few vegetarian restaurants have garnered as much favorable publicity as has Ubuntu in downtown Napa, Calif. It not only serves food but also is a yoga studio. Although that may seem like a strange combination, the food and the decor are stylish.

It's famous for its bean soup, which has been served since the restaurant opened a little less than three years ago. The soup is updated seasonally and cries out for embellishment. Recently, the blend included nettles, but it's now served with slow-cooked black kale.

The version here is great as is. You can add other ingredients if you like.

I realize that a lot of people don't think of bean soup as a summer dish, but it really is a year-round staple.

The secrets

o Rancho Gordo Yellow Eye beans: This brand is generally the freshest, and they cook up evenly and relatively quickly.

o The vegetable sachet: Vegetables and spices are sauteed, then tied in cheesecloth, added to the cooking water of the beans and then removed. This flavors the beans but keeps the broth clean.


o Layering flavors: Leeks, celery and carrots are sauteed and stirred into the cooked beans and broth. This adds a fresh burst of flavor and reinforces those same ingredients in the broth.


Serves 6-8

This soup, from Ubuntu chef Aaron London, features an heirloom bean from Rancho Gordo. The Yellow Eye bean, an off-white heirloom member of the white-bean family, gets its name from the large, brown mustard-colored spot surrounding the bean's hilum, which is where the bean was attached to the pod. The creamy-textured bean holds its own against the soup's spicy flavor. Use fewer chile flakes for a milder dish. You will need a large double-layered piece of cheesecloth (at least 12 square inches) and kitchen twine for the sachet. Serve with large pieces of toasted rustic bread.

For the beans:

3 cups Yellow Eye beans
Olive oil, as needed
1 whole carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 onion, diced
1 head garlic, split
Stems from 1 bunch Italian parsley
4 sprigs of rosemary
4 sprigs of thyme
Grated peel of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon chile flakes
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the soup:

1/2 cup olive oil
3 large carrots, diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 stalks celery, diced
2 leeks, white part only, diced
Cloves from 1 head garlic, sliced paper-thin
1 tablespoon red chile flakes
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup canned San Marzano tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
Extra-virgin olive oil, to finish

For the beans: Soak the beans in a large pot or bowl overnight, covered with at least 4 inches of water.

When ready to cook, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Saute the diced carrot, celery, onion, garlic, parsley stems, rosemary, thyme, lemon peel, chile flakes, coriander and fennel seeds until the vegetables just start to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to the center of a 12-inch-square piece of cheesecloth. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth together to create an enclosed sachet, and tie with kitchen twine.

Drain water from the soaked beans, then place beans in large pot. Add 4 quarts fresh water and the sachet. Bring to a boil, skimming foam that rises to the top. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cook until beans are soft and creamy, but not falling apart, about 18 to 20 minutes; older beans will take longer. Remove from heat and add about 2 tablespoons salt. Discard sachet and allow beans and their cooking liquid to cool. Beans, like potatoes, absorb a lot of salt, so re-taste after about 10 minutes and add more salt, if needed, and pepper to taste.

To finish: Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, a pinch of salt and black pepper, and cook until carrots soften and are slightly browned, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add celery and leeks with a bit of salt and fresh pepper, and cook another 2 to 3 minutes. Once tender, push vegetables to the side of the pot; add garlic, chile flakes and rosemary, and stir until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Lower heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the flavors have combined, another minute or so.

Add tomatoes and cook another 3 to 5 minutes. Add the beans and their cooking liquid. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour, until the vegetables are tender and flavors are balanced.

Stir in parsley before serving; adjust flavors with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Per serving: 431 calories, 18 g protein, 59 g carbohydrate, 15 g fat (2 g saturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 45 mg sodium, 22 g fiber.

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