• Yield: Serves 8

  • Time: 25 min prep, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours cooking, About 3 hours total

Adapted from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider (Artisan, 2001). Copyright 2001, Sally Schneider.

Prep time: 25 min

Cook time: 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours

Total time: About 3 hours

Yield: Serves 8

Part of Sally Schneider's Easy Menus for Holiday Entertaining
December 15, 2001

You can make this classic bean soup with just about any bean, from white beans, such as baby limas and navy beans, to hearty red beans, such as rattlesnake beans and Jacob's cattle. Each serving contains very little fat, since it takes only a small amount of pancetta or bacon to flavor 8 servings.

This soup is delicious as is, although I like to use it as a base for further embellishments. Less assertively flavored soups made with tender beans—for instance, white beans, such as cannellini or navy—combine best with many kinds of flavorings and garnishes that also provide a visual contrast.


Big Bean Soup

  • 1 ounce lean pancetta or thick-sliced bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice (scant 1/4 cup) or 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (you can add a chunk of lean smoked ham or prosciutto for flavor, if desired)

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped

  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped

  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped

  • 1 pound (about 2-1/2 cups)dried beans, such as baby limas, navy, cannellini, flageolets, pinto, rattlesnake, Jacob's cattle, or borlotti, soaked overnight in water to cover by 2 inches

  • 6 to 8 cups unsalted homemade or canned low-sodium chicken broth

  • 1 small serrano or jalapeno chili, seeded and deribbed, or 1/4 teaspoonred pepper flakes

  • 2 imported bay leaves

  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

Flavorings (optional), such as:

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped pungent fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, savory, or sage

  • 1/2 cuproasted garlic puree

  • 1 pound peppery greens , such as mustard, turnip, or arugula, tough stems removed, cleaned, and dried

  • Freshly ground black pepper

Embellishments (optional), singly or in combination, such as:

  • 2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 cup chopped mild fresh herbs , such as basil, cilantro, chives, flat-leaf parsely, or chervil

  • 2 ounces aged hard cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Fiore Sardo, or Manchego, thinly shaved or grated

  • 2 cups cooked vegetables (to be spooned into the center of each serving), such as:

  • Slow-Roasted Tomatoes (page 38 of book)

  • Roasted Root Vegetable Hash (page 44 of book)

  • "Fried" Artichokes with Crispy Garlic and Sage (page 66 of book)

  • Peperonata (page 63 of book)

  • Steam-Roasted Fennel with Pancetta and Juniper (page 58 of book)

  • Roasted Wild Mushrooms (page 40 of book)

  • "Fried" Onions (page 62 of book)


  • 1. In a large heavy saucepan or a dutch oven, over low heat, cook the pancetta, if using, covered, stirring occasionally, until it has rendered its fat and is fairly crisp, about 15 minutes; with a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a bowl. Or, if using olive oil, heat it over low heat.

  • 2. Add the onion, carrot, and garlic to the pan. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft but not browned, about 15 minutes. Drain the soaked beans and add to the pan, along with 6 cups of the broth, the chili pepper, bay leaves, sugar, and cooked pancetta, if using.

  • 3. Bring to a simmer, partially cover, and cook until the soup begins to thicken and the beans are soft, about 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours, adding as much additional chicken broth as necessary to achieve the consistency you prefer. After 1 hour of cooking, stir in the salt. During the last half hour of cooking, stir in any flavorings you wish. Season the soup with pepper.

  • 4. To serve, ladle the soup into warm soup bowls. Add any embellishments as desired.