Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Winter Squash and Cannellini Bean Soup

Winter Squash and Cannelini Bean Soup

Have you read Mark Bittman's recent book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscience Eating?  I checked it out from the library last week and have been mesmerized by it.  Mark Bittman, who also wrote the bestselling How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and writes a culinary column in the New York Times, offers an easy-to-read rundown on how government policy, big business marketing, and global economics influence what we choose to eat.  In this book, he provides a compelling argument for increasing the amount of plant based foods and reducing the amount of processed foods and meat in your diet as a way to improve your health as well as reducing your carbon footprint. His flexible, simple and non-dictatorial style makes his advise "easy to swallow".   You can purchase his books at his site,  Mark Bittman or at most any local bookseller or on-line.

In his approach to reduce the amount of processed foods a person eats, he encourages people to increase their intake of whole grains such as quinoa, bulgar, and oats, as well as increasing intake of beans and legumes.  He provides great tips for how to cut down preparation time as well as costs. Most people think that eating healthful food is more expensive, but forget that processed foods are actually much more expensive. I tend to wax and wane in my efforts to cook large quantities of dried beans to have on hand in the refrigerator for a variety of uses. I know that it is much cheaper to cook my own beans and that buying canned beans also includes buying BPA (Bisphenol A), since that is what is used in most cans.  The taste of home cooked beans is also superior to the ones in cans, and the sodium content is much lower.  But sometimes I have not planned enough in advance to soak the beans adequately to make digesting them easier and reduce cooking time. 

Cooked cannellini beans and uncooked winter squash 
But reading his book revived my motivation. In response, on Saturday I cooked the dried cannellini beans I had in the cupboard. Cannellini beans are large white beans, about 1/2" long, with a firm texture and skin and a nut-like flavor.  Very popular in Italy, cannellini beans are mild in flavor and hold their shape well.  The many health benefits of beans are that they are low in fat, high in protein, high in fiber, minerals and B vitamins. One cup of dry beans makes about 3 cups of cooked beans.

Cannellini beans, like other kidney beans, require special preparation to make them more digestible. Soaking and boiling are the keys.  Put your cannellini beans in a bowl with enough tap water to cover, and set them aside for up to 12 hours.  Then drain the beans, and put them in a large pot with a tightly fitting lid and cover with cold water by a couple of inches.  Bring the pot to a boil and let it boil, uncovered for at least 10 minutes.  Then turn the heat down to a simmer and cook until the beans are nearly tender, which will take from 45 - 60 minutes. Adding salt to the cooking water can toughen some beans.  Mark Bittman's advise is to add the small amount of salt needed toward the end of the cooking process. I concur that this works well. 

Cooked Winter Squash

So as I looked at the cooked cannellini beans I decided to puree them with the cooked winter squash that was waiting to be finished in the refrigerator.  Surprise Pzazz!  I didn't realize how the white beans would add a thick creamy texture to pureed soup without adding a bit of fat!  I added garlic powder and ground sage to the puree and then put a sprinkle of cardamon on the soup when I put it in the bowl.  Of course, fresh sage and garlic would undoubtedly have enhanced it, but the route I used was conveniently easy.  Now that I know the wonderful combination of winter squash and white beans, I can think of many perfectly Pzazzed  seasonings to experiment with. Maybe I'll try cannellini beans with rosemary and winter squash, or cannellini beans with garlic and kale.  Or....create your own Pzazzed Possibilities! The chilly damp air today invites a warm, hearty soup.

1/2 cup cooked white beans (preferably cannellini beans)            
1/2 cup mashed cooked winter squash
3/4 cup vegetable broth
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon ground sage powder              
Dash of salt and pepper
Sprinkle of ground cardamom

Puree all ingredients to desired consistency in an appliance of your choice.   I put all ingredients into my 4-cup glass Pyrex container and then used my Cuisinart Smart Stick Immersion Blender to puree it and then warmed it in the microwave.

Nutrition per serving:
Servings per recipe: 1
Serving Size: 11/4 cup
Calories: 166
Total Fat: 0 g                                              
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 109 mg
Total Carbs: 34 g
Dietary Fiber: 7 g
Protein: 9 g

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