This wonderful soup infuses the air with warmth and comfort, promising as well as delivering a bowl of soothing goodness. Make lots as it keeps remarkably well and folk always seem to want seconds, or more, the next day. You’ll need to soak the beans overnight or buy very good tinned or the excellent jars of beans, such as those from Brindisa.
cannellini beans 500g, soaked overnight
smoked ham hock 1 small, rinsed or 6 rashers of streaky bacon (250g), cut into small strips
garlic 1 head, cloves peeled, plus 2 extra cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
pumpkin 1 small, peeled and chopped into random rough shapes 1-2cm in length
carrots 2 medium, peeled and chopped into random rough shapes 1-2cm in length
onions 2 medium, peeled and chopped small
celery ½ a head, chopped into random rough shapes 1-2cm in length
fennel 1 small head, chopped into random rough shapes 1-2cm in length
thyme a small bundle
bay leaves 10
red chillies 2
roasted peeled chestnuts 500g
dried chilli flakes a big pinch
rosemary a small branch
sage a small branch
thyme a small branch
garlic 2 cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
grated parmesan to serve
In a big pot, bring the soaked beans, ham hock and whole garlic cloves to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes spooning away any foam rising to the surface.
Tumble all the chopped vegetables, the thyme and bay tied in a bundle, and the whole chillies into the pot with the simmering beans. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Bring the pot back to a simmer over a moderate heat and, once again, spoon away any foam that sullies the surface. Cover the pot and let cook for at least 2 hours. If making the soup with cooked beans from a jar, then only 45 minutes to 1 hour until the vegetables are tender.
Lift out the hock and let cool. Remove the skin, pull the meat and pop it back in the soup.
Half an hour before serving, chop the peeled chestnuts. Stir these gently into the soup with a pinch of dried chilli flakes. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly.
Place the rosemary, sage and thyme in 8 soup-spoonfuls of olive oil with the thinly sliced garlic cloves and warm gently in a pan. Serve bowls of the soup with a spoonful of infused olive oil atop and a great spoonful of grated parmesan.