This is one of my grandmother's signature recipes, and a staple of our holiday meals growing up. I can picture her standing at the stove, with a stained apron tied over her lavender sweat suit, wearing a pair of bedroom slippers at least as old as I am, stirring an enormous pot of beans and tomatoes. What really makes this special are the finishing touches: each bowl gets topped with a spoonful of cooked orzo pasta and a drizzle of good olive oil. It's healthy comfort food at its finest. —ieatthepeach
dried white beans (navy, cannellini, or Great Northern beans)
Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water, or do a quick soak: put them in a pot with lots of water, bring to boil, turn off the heat and let sit, covered, for an hour. Once the beans are soaked, drain and rinse them well.
In a large pot, combine beans, 2 quarts water, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and let bubble vigorously for a few minutes, then skim off any foam that comes to the top. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour, or until the beans are just barely tender.
While the beans simmer, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, and a pinch of salt, and sweat for 8-10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add garlic and saute for another 1-2 minutes, just until the onions start to turn golden. Add tomatoes and bring liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the mixture coalesces and looks saucy.
Add the tomato mixture to the bean pot. Cover and simmer for another 1 hour, or until the beans are completely tender (start checking them after about 20 minutes).
While the soup simmers, cook the orzo in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
When the beans are tender, stir in parsley, and season the soup with salt and pepper as needed. Ladle into bowls, and top each bowl with a spoonful of orzo and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve warm. Leftover soup (minus the orzo and oil) will keep, tightly covered, in the fridge for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 4 months.