The frenetic exuberance of summer has passed to be replaced by cool and blustery mornings with a scent of burnished leaves in the air. Once again Seattleites are succumbing to sweaters and rain boots as the nights draw in, flanked on either side by an eiderdown of clouds trailing mist and drizzle in their wake. After a long summer of salads, it is time again for the slow simmered pot dishes of fall.
Nothing evokes fall like a fragrant cauldron of beans, simmered in an aromatic swath onions, garlic, herbs and, most importantly, a well chosen morsel of meat. In fact, it never ceases to amaze me how a small piece of cured pork can transform a monotonous pot of beans into a succulent and satisfying meal. The Italians have known it for centuries, as have the Spanish, the Mexicans and countless other cultures. Using meat as a hidden seasoning or condiment, rather than as the star of a dish, is the at the heart of peasant cuisine—the conjuring of vast, delicious meals out of scant means.
Last weekend I made one such dish, a bean soup rich with delicata squash, rosemary, and pancetta. I used a mere half pound of pancetta to a pound of locally grown dried beans from Willow Wood Farms on Whidbey Island. The result was fantastic; accompanied by a hearty loaf of bread it serves six for a deliciously comforting one-pot meal. Welcome to autumn.
Autumn bean, squash & pancetta soup
1 lb dry cannellini or other soup beans
olive oil, to coat pan
⅓ – ½ lb pancetta, cut into ½ inch dice
1-2 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp rosemary, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 medium delicata squash, seeded and diced
1 tbsp honey
a squeeze of lemon
sea salt and pepper, to taste
Put beans in a pot, cover with water, and leave at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain, place in a large saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, about an hour. Drain.
Heat a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium low. Coat the bottom with olive oil and butter then sweat the onion and garlic for 10 minutes or until golden and soft. Add the pancetta and cook for a few minutes. Add the rosemary and tomato paste (along with a splash of white wine if you have any to hand) and cook for a few minutes longer. Add the squash, stir, and let flavors simmer together for a few minutes. Pour in the beans, add water to just cover, and bring to the boil. Reduce to simmer and cook until squash is tender, 10-15 minutes.
The soup is delicious as is, but for a creamier version blitz half the mixture in a food processor and then return to the pot. You can also use a handheld immersion blender for a few seconds for the same result.