Genius Recipes

A Genius, Minimalist White Bean Soup from Marcella Hazan

April 20, 2016

Even over email, Victor Hazan writes with emotive, well-built prose that could convince you to delete your emoji keyboard and sign up for a poetry retreat.

"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."

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More: Get a first peek at Marcella and Victor's last book together, Ingredienti: Marcella's Guide to the Market, coming out in July 2016.

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.

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Top Comment:
“A p*ssing match over a bean soup recipe? Good grief. The soup looks wonderful, by the way. I love pureeing some of the beans to add a bit more body to the soup. Will definitely be trying!”
— Tracy M.

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.

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

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  • CShores
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


CShores February 3, 2019
I've just made this soup. To my delight I loved it. I read the reviews and advice. I did prepare the dried beans, which had a lovely creamy texture. While canned beans are good in salads, I always prepare dry beans for use in soup. The end result was great. I chose to believe in the recipe and it did not disappoint. I will make this one again.
phip October 29, 2017
Wow, so many unhappy results and junked beans! I'm surprised as I've been cooking for my appreciative Roman husband using Marcella as my guide since 1982. That said, it does seem like rather a lot of oil to start with. Many Italians like to add a drizzle of EVOO and a grinding of black pepper to their beans at table. *****Also and most importantly, burned garlic will ruin this dish (as it does every dish) In order to avoid over cooking the garlic do what Maria Cau, the best Italian cook that I have known personally, taught me one day in Milan. Always put your garlic and oil into the pan before turning on the heat. It is too easy to distractedly burn the garlic by slipping it into the oil which has gotten too hot. if you have by mistake burned your garlic (or onion) throw it out, wipe the pan and start all over again. Thats hard to do when you are throwing out half a cup of very good EVOO. All the more reason to cut back a bit on the oil.
talia March 9, 2017
hello. while i love the flavor of this recipe, mine did not come out as a soup at all, but much thicker, like a bean puree. i was curious, and i know that sometimes things can get lost in translation when a recipe is published, so i looked around to see if anyone else on the web had posted this particular recipe. i did find one person who had, and instead of 6 cups of beans, that posting of the recipe called for 3 cups. i'm not suggesting that one or the other "must be" right, and there could very well be other explanations for why my own first try ended up so thick (heat too high? beans too old? beans cooked too long? these seem like possible culprits.) but i do wonder, since i saw that other version of the recipe. is it possible to verify the 6 cups is really what marcella published?
Annie May 6, 2016
An unexpectedly difficult time finding dry cannellini beans led to purchasing entirely too many when I finally did find them in bulk - it's hard to judge how much is pouring into the brown paper sack when you're only 5'2" and have to stand on tiptoe just to barely reach the container. But I digress... I ended up using 6 cups of cooked beans and followed the recipe as written except for adding 2 cups of stock (half chicken/half beef). Absolutely delicious! So delicious, in fact, that I'm going to make another pot tomorrow with the leftover beans.
Bette April 30, 2016
It seems an especially good ideat to read all the comments before starting this recipe. However, you may still be confused. Bette
Ileana M. April 27, 2016
I've been brining my beans before cooking ever since reading Alexandra's post about it. Can't wait to try this recipe!
Tracy M. April 27, 2016
A p*ssing match over a bean soup recipe? Good grief.

The soup looks wonderful, by the way. I love pureeing some of the beans to add a bit more body to the soup. Will definitely be trying!
jenny April 26, 2016
My partner and I just finished a bowl each of this, with toasted garlic bread. Feedback... The quantities didn't work for me. Way too many beans (I started with 2 cups dried, and had enough cooked beans to feed 8.) Not enough broth - I doubled it (using just 2 cups of the cooked beans), and it still cried out for more. The flavour was unexpectedly yum for such a simple soup. Next time though I would start with gently sautéed leeks or onions, and add some more flavour, maybe thyme. It needed a lot of freshly ground black pepper, but we both did really enjoy it. Nice creamy texture, and the olive oil/garlic base gave the beans more flavour than I would have guessed. Good autumn or winter soup (I'm in NZ!) - I would make it again!
Francesca April 25, 2016
I have been making another bean soup by Marcella Hazan for around 25 years. I think it came from her very first book. The recipe is here.
Sharon H. April 25, 2016
tried that link - it did not work but got it here:
janet T. April 25, 2016
One of the best investments I've ever made in kitchen equipment is a pressure cooker. Mine is a Kuhn Rikon that works like a dream. It makes very quick work of dried beans without soaking.
Sharon H. April 25, 2016
Cooks Illustrated has some of the science behind brining beans before cooking - you can google it ;-)
Sharon H. April 25, 2016
It's a "Tempest in a Beanpot"!
Lee April 25, 2016
To EMCSULL- Dried beans are iffy. I tried several times and they were still hard in the middle. Then a friend of mine told be it only works if the beans aren't too 'old' - sitting around for a long time, so if you know a place that sells a lot of dried beans then give it a try.
John C. April 25, 2016
I checked Hazen's cook book, it is 2 cupsof beans, not 6.
Brenda H. April 25, 2016
Thanks John. 2 cups raw or cooked beans. Interesting - 30 comments so far on a simple soup. I regret missing the famous Hazen dinners when living in Sarasota.
Alexandra S. April 25, 2016
I just looked, too: it's 2 cups dried beans (which are then cooked and drained) or 6 cups canned cannellini beans, drained.
emcsull April 25, 2016
what about brining dried beans, does anybody do that ? I thought you should not salt beans before cooking.
Sharon H. April 25, 2016
Hazan insisted that you salt beans while soaking before cooking; Cooks Illustrated explains it scientifically....evidently they release more calcium and magnesium or something, plus other things. I also have learned that you are NOT supposed to soak beans (from someone else) but just cook them immediately. Ah, well. I just tried it yesterday (brining first) so we shall see!
Gill April 25, 2016
No need for anyone to trade anything. Even small children are told ' Try it and if you don't like it, fine.'.
MacGuffin June 17, 2020
One of my friends is raising her daughter this way. She and her husband insist on that one taste and if the little one doesn't like it, that's fine.
Sharon H. April 24, 2016
And "other Sharon"....I get it. I'm just a little crabby because my dog died on Wednesday v. suddenly....and she was not old. Ugh.
Sharon April 25, 2016
I'm so sorry, honey, to hear about your dog. I know how painful that is. I'll include you both in my prayers tonight. I've enjoyed chatting with you. Blessings, Sharon
Sharon H. April 24, 2016
Yikes! I think the beans are cooked......already. So the broth know. I'm afraid to say anything, har har.
jenny April 24, 2016
1 cup of broth for 6 cups if beans? Has anyone actually tried this recipe as posted?? Sharon vs Sharon, hilarious, no doubt you are both right.
Alexandra S. April 24, 2016
Jenny, I have, and it is so, so good just as it is written. It seems like a small amount of liquid, but it works. And if it seems too thick (like on subsequent days) you can always add a little more broth or water to thin it out.
jenny April 24, 2016
thanks Alexandra. I've cooked my beans and am trying this out tonight!
Alexandra S. April 25, 2016
Sharon April 24, 2016
Okay, Sharon, no need to trade credentials. (Smile/grimace, but smile). You're clearly knowledgeable. So tell me, why would one omit onions, for example, from a pot of beans? What would be the point? I LOVE beans! Red beans, black beans, white beans, pinto beans, garbanzos, etc. They are a staple in my home and I cook a pot of 'em nearly every week. But, as wonderful and toothsome as they are, beans are not exactly "unctuous" and need a lot of help from supporting players. Having a parent from the American South, I'm probably terribly spoiled when it comes to beans. Frankly, nobody does beans better than Southerners. Hands down. In my family, they're always seasoned with a rich sofrito of caramelized onions, garlic and bell peppers. Standard starting procedure for beans. Fire roasted chiles added, sometimes. Caribbean's pull a close second, here. Europeans? Not so much. Different scale. No hickory trees equals no hickory smoke tradition. The only way this recipe would be palatable would be if served as intended; as a bed upon which roasted or grilled meats were presented. Wood grilled or fire roasted, optimally, allowing the smoky juices to permeate, anoint and flavor the beans. Lee has expressed the same. Beans love smoke and fat. I have obviously insulted Marcella's fans. I apologize for the slight, truly, but I stick by my guns. The only way anyone could think beans prepared in this fashion would be good as a stand alone meal would be if they had never known anything else. Of course, they should not be attacked for that.