Soup season is in full swing and classics like tomato soup are getting a workout. But in spite of the relative perfection that is chicken noodle and the like, variety remains the spice of life even if your life is currently soup. Today’s bowl of Brothy Butter Beans is a little off-the-beaten-path but only just. These tender beans are swimming in a meatless version of the classic Italian brodo accented with pesto and finished with gently wilted Swiss Chard. Sure, it hasn’t reached the dizzying heights of fame that cream of mushroom has. But give it time. It’s at least destined to be a classic in this household.
This recipe starts as any bean recipe ought to. With some quality soaking time for the beans. Now, I realize Lima beans or butter beans are available canned. They simply won’t work in this recipe. We need the beans to cook alongside the soup. That’s how we turn them into creamy, flavor-packed morsels. So pour a cup of dried beans into a bowl and cover them with cold water. It’s a simple process that requires an ounce of your attention for a fraction of your day. But I will grant you, it’s not always easy to remember to do it. So I recommend setting a bean alarm on your phone. That’s what I do, and I am super well-adjusted and the picture of cool.
This soup starts with a sofrito, which is more or less a puréed mirepoix. I didn’t go with traditional Spanish ingredients when making my sofrito, though. Instead, I opted to use carrot, celery, and leek. Why did I choose these vegetables? Because they were in my crisper. It really is as simple as that.
People often complain about the length of ingredient lists. And the pain of having to go pick something specific up for a particular recipe. But a lot of the time, it’s not entirely necessary. One of the best time-saving skills you can have in the kitchen is determining suitable substitutions. What do I mean by this? Well, say you don’t have a leek but you have an onion. You don’t need to go to the grocery store. You have an allium and that’s really all you need. Will the final soup taste slightly different? Yes, but every time you make anything it will likely taste a little different. Being a good cook isn’t about following a recipe flawlessly and to a tee. Cooking is like anything else in life, it’s about problem-solving. Cook with flexibility and you’ll always enjoy the process, I promise.
Anyway, once you’ve blitzed up the sofrito your crisper generously decided on for you, you’re going to predictably add it to the pot with a little oil. Now, this is when I want you to slow down. Add a little salt to encourage the vegetables to release their liquid and leave them to slow cook in their own juices. This is where your soup’s flavor is going to come from. Once the sofrito starts to turn a light amber, add some white wine and slowly cook down until the wine disappears.
Now, that we have a solid base built up, let’s get our broth going. Add the beans you’ve been diligently soaking along with their soaking liquid and add roughly 8 cups of water to the party. Then pop a parm rind and a couple of bay leaves in there and bring the mixture up to a boil before reducing to a simmer. These will give the soup a slightly herbal quality and a hefty dose of umami. If you’re a vegetarian who doesn’t consume rennet, you can swap the rind for dried mushrooms. They are legit umami bombs.
With the broth and the beans simmering away, we can make the pesto for our Brothy Butter Beans. Now, I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’m allergic to pinenuts. It’s an allergy I developed in my mid-20s, so yes, I am fully aware of what I am missing. Anyway, I’ve made pesto with every nut under the sun at this point and the nut I gravitate towards the most is the walnut. It’s got an earthy presence that I find addictive and a butteriness that makes it perfect for pesto. The rest of the cast of this pesto is everyone you would expect and it comes together in a food processor, so no need to prime those forearms.
Once the beans are tender and the pesto is blitzed, all that remains is the finishing touches. Stir in some coarsely chopped swiss chard and that tasty pesto you whizzed up and you’re home free. And because you worked so hard soaking and simmering those beans, you have my leave to bust out a loaf of your favorite storebought crusty bread. Not that you needed my permission.
So that’s everything you need to know about these Brothy Butter Beans with Pesto and Swiss Chard. A cozy stick-to-your-ribs nosh that is guaranteed to find its way into your regular rotation.
Brothy Butter Beans with Pesto and Swiss Chard
- Dutch oven or stock pot
- Food Processor
- 1 cup dried butter beans or lima beans
- 3 large carrots peeled, coarsely chopped
- 3 ribs celery coarsely chopped
- 1 leek white and light green portion coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 8 cups water
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 1 Parmigiano Reggiano rind**
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 bundle swiss chard coarsely chopped
- 1 batch pesto see below
- Additional Parmigiano Reggiano for serving
- 1 cup roasted unsalted walnuts
- 3 cloves garlic peeled
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves tightly packed
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano
- Pour the beans into a large bowl and cover with cold water. Let sit for 8 hours or overnight.
- Place the carrots, celery, and leek in a large food processor and blitz until smooth. You may have to work in batches.
- Heat the olive oil in a large heavy bottom pot until shimmering. Add the blitzed veggies to the pot and turn the heat to low. Stir in a healthy pinch of salt and saute until extremely softened. About 15 minutes.
- Once the veggies start to turn a light amber color, add the wine and continue to cook until the wine is absorbed. Pour in the beans along with their soaking liquid and add the water. Add the bay leaves and the parm rind and a sprinkling of salt bring the mixture up to a boil before reducing to a simmer. Cook for 2 hours.
- While the soup is simmering, make the pesto. Place the walnuts, basil, garlic, and salt in a large food processor. Blitz until it resembles mulch. Set the food processor to low and slowly stream in the olive oil. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the cheese. Set aside until ready to use.
- When the beans are tender, stir the pesto into the broth. Taste and season with salt if desired. Stir in the honey, vinegar, and the swiss chard. Simmer until the chard has wilted.
- Pour the soup into bowls and garnish with additional Parmigiano Reggiano. Serve immediately with a loaf of crusty bread