Editors' Picks

Pasta and Bean Soup with Kale, Revisited

September 22, 2009

- Merrill

Here at food52, we find the evolution of recipes a fascinating (not to mention educational) topic, as the transformation of one dish into another can occur in so many wonderful ways. Last week, I wrote a post about adapting someone else’s recipe in order to make it yours. This week, I thought I’d write about a recipe of my own that I have been making the same way for years but then suddenly decided to overhaul this weekend.

Shop the Story

Inspired by last week’s cooked greens contest, I bought a gorgeous bunch of kale at the greenmarket on Saturday and then a few minutes later found myself standing in front of the bean stall, staring at a pint container of pinto beans. At first glance, they looked very much like the cranberry beans I usually use to make my recipe for Pasta and Bean Soup with Kale (which was, incidentally, the first recipe I uploaded to food52). This smelled suspiciously like kismet, so the beans ended up in my bag next to the kale, and voila: I had the ingredients for Sunday supper.

But Sunday brought a bit more sunshine than expected, and all of a sudden the hearty, bread-fortified soup I had been planning didn’t seem quite as appealing as it had the day before. So I decided to retool the recipe a bit and take advantage of the two juicy tomatoes sitting on my counter. The reincarnated soup, perfect for late summer or early fall, has more tomatoes and less chicken stock than the original, making it brighter and lighter. It calls for half the amount of bread to thicken the broth, and a pinch of red chili flakes lends some heat.

When winter rolls around, I may revisit the original, but it’s good to know that I can now serve this soup almost year-round.

Pasta and Bean Soup with Kale, Revisited

Makes 4 to 6 main course servings.

  • 1½ cups pinto or cranberry beans, rinsed
  • 4 cups chicken stock (homemade or low sodium)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • leaves from 2 small sprigs rosemary, chopped
  • leaves from 2 sprigs thyme
  • 3 large sage leaves
  • salt
  • 14.5-oz. can chopped tomatoes, with juices
  • 1 cup loosely packed white bread (use a Tuscan or French loaf and tear the soft inside into chunks, discarding the crust)
  • 2 cups finely chopped tomatoes, with the juices
  • pinch red chili flakes
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 cups roughly chopped kale leaves (no stems)
  • 4 oz. small dried pasta such as trofie, tubetti or macaroni
  • Extra virgin olive oil and freshly grated parmesan

1. Put the beans in a large pot and add enough water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Bring the water to a boil and simmer the beans for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and let the beans soak for 2 to 4 hours.

2. Drain and rinse the beans, and return them to the pot. Add the chicken stock, 3 cups of water, the garlic, herbs and a large pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer gently for about an hour, until the beans start to become tender but still have a firm-ish bite.

3. Meanwhile, use a fork to mash together the bread and the canned tomatoes in a medium bowl. Set aside while the beans are cooking. Then, add this mixture, the chopped tomatoes, red chili flakes and black pepper to taste. Cover the pot, and simmer gently until the beans are fully tender, 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the bread from sticking to the bottom of the pot. (If the soup seems too thick at any point, just add more water.) While the soup is cooking, bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil.

4. When the beans are cooked, stir the kale into the soup and continue to simmer. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions. When the pasta is just al dente, use a slotted spoon to transfer it to the soup. (At this point, you should not cook the soup any longer, as the kale will begin to brown, and the pasta will turn to mush.) Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve in warm bowls with a drizzle of good olive oil, a sprinkling of grated parmesan and toasted bread for dunking.

Order now

A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

Order now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • MrsWheelbarrow
  • Sandy Smith
    Sandy Smith
  • Helen
  • lastnightsdinner
  • Merrill Stubbs
    Merrill Stubbs
Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.


MrsWheelbarrow September 23, 2009
I love the idea of bread thickening a soup! I have some Rancho Gordo pinto beans and a bunch of kale.... I know what's for dinner tonight!
Sandy S. September 22, 2009
If it weren't almost midnight, I'd be on my way to the kitchen to make this. And as it is, I'm still considering it. So, in any case, this will be dinner soon! Mmm.
Helen September 22, 2009
M- this looks great. When I do mine, I add a parm rind to the soup base while it's cooking. Adds a nice background flavor, and then I finish the soup with a splash or two of red wine or sherry vinegar. I'll try your version and we can compare notes! -H
Merrill S. September 23, 2009
Of course! Parmesan rind would be a fantastic addition.
lastnightsdinner September 22, 2009
Some of my favorite ingredients! I do a similar soup with spicy Italian sausage, beans, tomatoes and kale, but this sounds like a fabulous meat-free alternative. Love the use of bread to thicken it.
Merrill S. September 23, 2009
Yours sounds great too! I hope you'll think about putting it on food52.