Heirloom Bean Soup with Mussels and Winter Vegetables, and Watercress Pesto

(excerpted from the video above)

Q: “We have schools across the country that are cutting gym, where they can’t afford books for the kids. Do you think it’s possible that what you’re doing, or what you’re trying to do, can really be spread all across the country — in these times?”

A “In these times, it needs to be spread more than ever — that children would grow up, knowing how to cook. This is something that we don’t know how to do anymore.”

Q: “But can we afford it? I guess I’m asking.”

A: “We can’t not afford it.”

* * *

When I was a teenager, I had the good fortune to attend a high school located in suburban New Jersey where cooking classes were offered as a year-long elective. There were two courses, Foods I and Foods II. Foods I covered baking: cakes, cookies, pastry, pie. Foods II was oriented more towards cooking and menu planning. In my naiveté, I thought that this was typical of most schools…where if you were interested, you could learn how to cook. It wasn’t until much later that I found out how wrong I was.

Cooking is an essential life skill that everyone needs to know, in my opinion. It’s as necessary to living as reading, writing and arithmetic.

The demands placed on our lives have led us to identify with and associate “fast” and “easy” as desirable qualities when it comes to the preparation of food. Speed is a priority so we can make time for pursuits other than cooking and eating. Don’t you think there’s something wrong with that?

Mealtimes are some of the most pleasurable parts of the day because they offer us a chance to experience the sensuality and beauty of food. What could be more satisfying than time spent with family and friends at the table? It seems to me a poor thing to reduce those activities to an afterthought, or to disregard them altogether.

Heirloom bean soup, with mussels and winter vegetables, and watercress pesto

Heirloom bean soup, with mussels and winter vegetables, and watercress pesto

Heirloom Bean Soup with Mussels and Winter Vegetables, and Watercress Pesto

This recipe features Good Mother Stallard beans from Rancho Gordo. If you don’t have heirloom beans, regular dried beans can be used instead. Cannellini beans are a good substitute. You may have to adjust the bean cooking times provided below.

If you don’t have Meyer lemons, substitute regular lemons instead.

For the beans:

1 cup dried Good Mother Stallard heirloom beans

For the soup:

2 lbs. mussels, scrubbed and debearded
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, trimmed and diced
2 stalks celery, trimmed and diced
1 carrot, peeled, trimmed and diced
1/2 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
sea salt
freshly milled black pepper
1 cup cooked Good Mother Stallard heirloom beans
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fennel seeds

For the pesto:

1 cup lightly packed watercress leaves and stems
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon toasted slivered almonds
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
juice of 1/2 Meyer lemon

The day before you make this dish, place the beans in a pot along with enough cold water to cover and soak for 8 hours, or preferably overnight. You can skip this step if you prefer, but you’ll have to adjust the bean cooking time as it’ll take longer.

Drain the pot of beans, then add 4 cups cold water. Bring this to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partly cover and let simmer for 60-90 minutes or until the beans are very tender. You can add salt to taste while the beans are cooking, but go easy if you do; the beans will absorb the salt, so you’ll probably need to adjust seasoning at the end. When the beans are done, taste for salt and pepper. This recipe uses 1 cup cooked heirloom beans. Reserve the rest of the beans for another use.

Place mussels in a large pot. Pour about 1/2 cup water over them, then cover the pot. Steam for about 5 to 6 minutes on mediun-high heat or until mussels open and are fully cooked. Discard any mussels that don’t open. Remove the pot from heat and let the mussels cool. Shell each mussel and place the mussel meat in a bowl. Strain the mussel cooking liquid and set aside.

Warm the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onion, celery, carrot, fennel and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables are tender. Add the reserved mussel meat, mussel cooking liquid, cooked heirloom beans, bay leaf, fennel seeds and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 10 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper.

While the soup is cooking, prepare the pesto. Put the watercress leaves and stems in the bowl of a food processor. Add the oil in a thin steady stream, and process until the watercress is finely chopped, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and almonds and process for 15-20 seconds. The almonds should be finely chopped but not a paste. Transfer the pesto to a small bowl. Stir in the cheese and Meyer lemon juice. Taste for salt, if necessary.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each serving with a teaspoon of watercress pesto. Serve immediately, with additional pesto at the table.

This recipe is sized for 4 people.

Time: 2 hours, not including prep. The beans can be prepared in advance. If you exclude the bean soaking/cooking time, it takes about 30 minutes, not counting prep.


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