"Do you know the cannellini soup with garlic and parsley?" he asked.
"There is no more perfect example of Marcella’s historic contribution to cooking in our time, of how much taste you can produce with the fewest ingredients," he continued. "Or, as she used to tell her students, what you leave out is just as important as what you put in."
What this cannellini soup leaves out are most of the distractions you might expect: There are no chunks of carrots, celery, or onion; no bacon or ham hock; no kale. Only five ingredients are left standing, three of them anchoring the recipe's title: beans, garlic, parsley, olive oil, broth. The soup also simmers for just 10 minutes.
If this sounds bare bones, it's for good reason. "The soup was Marcella's father's," Victor told me. "His extremely frugal cooking, generated both by inclination and necessity, laid the basis for the cooking that eventually Marcella made her own. The most expensive ingredient was the salt."
I have questions. If someone else had written this, would it still be this good? (Only if it were written as thoughtfully.) If you stumbled across it in an anonymous Google search, would you try it? (Almost definitely not.)
Luckily, because the recipe comes from Marcella's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, you can know—without asking—to trust it. And as you make the soup, all 10 minutes of it, you'll better understand why this is all that it needs to be.
Your first clue is that there's not a mere tablespoon or glug of olive oil, but a half cup, which cushions the broth and quickly becomes a messenger for toasted garlic.
After 5 minutes, halfway through your simmer time, you scoop out some of the beans, purée them, then stir them back in for an even more luxurious stew, one that seems like it could have been simmered for hours.
Victor recommends cooking your own dried beans, which can take as little as 45 minutes if they're brined and soaked first. He's especially fond of the creamy sorana bean (a cannellini variant) that Rancho Gordo recently named after Marcella.
"On the one or two occasions that we gave in to the temptation of canned beans we regretted it," Victor told me. But out of necessity, I've found that this method is the best (and quickest) way to improve them, and I've never regretted a thing about it.
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
- 6 cups cooked cannellini or other white beans—either canned or cooked from 2 cups dried (recommended)
- Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
- 1 cup homemade broth or water (or 1/3 cup canned beef stock diluted with 2/3 cup water)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Thick grilled or toasted slices of crusty bread (optional)
Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. An enormous thank you to Victor Hazan for sharing this one.
Photos by Bobbi Lin