This recipe came about during an autumn vacation in Tuscany with some friends. After a day of exploring the local markets, we came back to the villa with an assortment of seasonal ingredients, and this is what we threw together. I have made it many times since, tweaking the recipe here and there. If you want to make this ahead of time, don't cook or add the pasta until you have reheated the soup and are ready to serve it. —Merrill Stubbs
6 generous bowls of soup
1 1/2 cups
cranberry beans (kidney or navy will work too)
chicken or vegetable stock
cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
finely chopped assorted herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and sage
large, ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped, or 14.5 oz. crushed canned tomatoes
loosely packed white Italian or French bread, crust removed
large head Tuscan kale (cavolo nero), rinsed, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
small dried pasta such as trofie, tubetti or macaroni
Put the beans in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Soak for at least 8 hours. Drain well and return to the pot. Add enough stock to cover them (about 3 cups), the garlic and a few sprigs of fresh herbs and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer the beans gently for about 40 minutes, until they are almost tender. If necessary, add more chicken stock so that the beans remain covered.
Meanwhile, use a fork to mash together the tomatoes and the bread until you have a slurry. Set aside until the beans are cooked. Remove the garlic cloves and any herb stems from the pot and stir in the tomato-bread mixture. Add 2 more cups of stock, cover the pot, and simmer gently for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the bread from sticking to the bottom of the pot. While the soup is simmering, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil and add a generous pinch of salt.
If the soup seems thick after 20 minutes, add up to 2 more cups of stock. Stir in the kale and gently simmer as you add the pasta to the boiling water. When the pasta is barely cooked, use a slotted spoon to transfer it to the soup, adding some of the pasta water if it still seems too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in warm bowls with a drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan.