Sometimes I start thinking of a dish, start getting an idea that seems wonderful in that precise moment, fine tune the recipe and then . . . end up cooking something completely different. The opening dish I had chosen for my "birthday menu" was definitely not a bean soup. In a local shop I had seen some cute miniature pint glasses, which gave me the idea of a Guinness look-alike soup. Having bought some cuttlefish ink a while back I intended to use that to turn my soup black. On top of that I wanted to serve a frothy cream, flavored as to complement the soup. After some more thinking I had decided to play even more with contrasts: not only the black and white color, but also a temperature game. I would serve a cold soup, with a dominating full-tasting ingredient, topped with hot creamy and soothing foam. In the time it took me to mentally go from tiny pint glasses to finished recipe idea, the glasses were long gone. Oh well, time to think something new.
Inspiration struck again the next day, this time for good. While wondering through the aisles of my usual supermarket I found some real dried cannellini beans on sale. Cannellini, a bean sort original of Argentina, is a staple of Italian cuisine, especially in Toscana, where they’re used for the fantastic fagioli all’uccelletto. They’re not dissimilar from navy beans as far as looks go, but cannellini are nuttier in aroma and silkier to the tongue. They taste so good that I decided to use them in the simplest way, making a passato, enriched just by a few drops of truffle oil. I still liked the idea of serving the soup in a small container, so I decided to use some nice new demi tasse I bought as serving “dish”. I liked the idea of a passato because in this dish the main ingredient(s) is simply cooked to doneness and passed through a food mill (with beans, getting rid of the skin in the process). The puree is served as such or simply diluted with water, stock or the liquid used to cook the main ingredient. If you’re used to the classical French soups you’ll notice the absence of ay cream, egg or starch as thickening agent: there’s no need for any since it is the dry cooked ingredient getting pureed here and not the whole soup, and what comes out has to be diluted most of the times. Also the lack of foreign flavors lets the pure taste of the chosen ingredient shine through.
There was still something missing to round up the dish. Shrimps immediately seemed a good garnish to go with the soup. I have to admit, the idea is not terribly original. The crustacean/pulses combo probably has roots in Italian traditional cooking, but it has really exploded in the ‘90s inspired by Fulvio Pierangelini’s passatina di ceci e scampi (chickpea passato and scampi). Fulvio Pierangelini, chef of the Gambero Rosso restaurant in San Vincenzo (Livorno), is considered the greatest Italian chef by most of the national critics, while being almost unknown abroad. Might have to do with his fame as extremely shy if not even grumpy person. I haven’t tried his cooking yet but really hope to do so soon. His passatina has been copied so much that it has gone beyond mere copy and has become a classic through and through. And, as with every classic, the original recipe has given birth to loads of variations. The very simple version I made was quite a success. The earthy beans and the sweet shrimps matched each other nicely, and the truffle oil added a touch of seductive aroma marrying the two ingredients together. While my little soup is probably not worthy of what Mr Pierangelini feeds his dog, if he has any, it was nonetheless pretty tasty and something I’ll keep in my recipe box.
Bean soup with shrimps
Per serving (as small appetizer/amuse):
half a cup of dried cannellini beans
bay leaf, garlic, celery and carrot to cook the beans
a few tablespoons (amount depends on the thickness of the bean puree, see below) of chicken or vegetable stock, preferably self made
white truffle oil or, missing that, some good intensly flavoured extra virgin olive oil
2 large shrimp tails, shelled and devained, preferably frish
optional garnish: boiled ad halved quail eggs, herbs, etc
Rinse the beans in water, place them in a large bowl (you’ll need some space left free to allow for the beans swelling up) with enough water to just cover them. The following day discard the water and place the beans in a pan with a bay leaf, an unpeeled garlic clove, a little carrot and celery, and enough water to cover the beans. (Here I used one bay leaf, a garlic clove, a carrot and a celery stick to cook the equivalent of two cups of dried beans.)
Bring to a boil then reduce the flame and let the beans simmer until fully cooked. This might take from one to two hours, depending on how "fresh" the dried beans are. Once cooked strain the beans from the cooking liquid and let them cool slightly. You might want to reserve the cooking liquid to dilute the bean puree if you don’t have any stock at hand. Once you can touch the beans without burning your fingers pass them through a food mill fitted with a fine disk.
Dilute the obtained puree with the stock until you have a consistency similar to that of a thick soup. Keep warm. You might end up getting more soup than you need, freeze it or store the remaining sopu in the fridge and eat it the next day.
Quickly sautee the shrimp tails over high heat, salting them once cooked. Pour the soup in the (warm) espresso cups, pour a few drops of truffle oil on top and arrange the two shrimp tails in the way that looks best to your eye. If you feel like an extra touch add a sprig of thyme, a blade of chives or an halved quail egg to the dish.