Greek Bean Soup (Fasolatha)

Oftentimes when there is not much at hand, the simplest of ingredients can be transformed into a delicious meal.  There have been occasions where I've had to rise to the challenge of putting together a family dinner from scratch using only a few basic ingredients, and tonight was one of those such nights.  When the larder is looking a little bare, I find as long as I have onion, garlic, tinned tomatoes and a few veggies available, then we won't go hungry.  Another of my essential staples are dried beans.  They add body and flavour to any dish, turning it into something more substantial and filling.  This kind of frugal cooking harks back to the days of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, who created feasts for their family from only a handful of ingredients.  The irony is that whilst they cooked simple, peasant fare, they ate like kings.  A meal would often stretch for days, feed a large family, and be healthy and delicious too.  This is my kind of cooking.  One of the dishes I was brought up on is Fasolatha, or Greek bean soup.  It's wholesome peasant food at its best.  This just happens to be my grandmother's recipe, which I've tweaked with a little stock powder to add some depth to the flavour, but otherwise it remains true to her original recipe.  I tend not to make mine as watery as most soups - I prefer it a little on the thicker side, like a stew or a Greek version of baked beans.  You could even cook it with a little speck to make it even more heartier.

375g white cannellini beans or navy beans
1 large brown onion
2 cloves garlic
3 large carrots
4 sticks of celery, including the tops (leaves)
2-3 fresh bay leaves
Dried Greek oregano
Sea salt flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon beef or vegetable stock powder
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tin crushed tomatoes
Olive oil
Kettle of freshly boiled water

Soak the beans in cold water overnight.

The next day, drain the beans in a colander and rinse them under fresh water.

Place the beans in a large saucepan, fill the saucepan with cold water, cover and bring to the boil.

Once the water has begun to boil, reduce the heat to allow the beans to simmer vigorously for at least 30 minutes, or until al dente (not too soft, just to the bite).

Once cooked, drain the beans in a colander again and set aside.  Rinse and dry the saucepan and place it back onto the hot plate.

Add a good lug of extra virgin olive oil to the saucepan, enough to just cover the bottom.

Roughly dice the brown onion and add to the oil and sauté for a couple of minutes.

Crush the garlic cloves and add to the onion, continuing to sauté over a moderate heat.

Wash the celery.  Chop the leaves off the celery and set aside.  Peel the celery stalks and carrots.  Cut the tops off the carrots and discard.  Chop the carrots in half lengthwise and then cut into 1cm slices.  No need to cut the celery stalks in half, simple cut them into 1cm slices also.  Roughly chop the celery leaves and set aside.

Add the celery stalk and carrot to the saucepan and stir to combine with the onion and garlic.  Pop the lid on the saucepan and allow to cook for a couple of minutes.  Remove the lid and add the roughly chopped celery leaves and bay leaves, mix to combine and pop the lid back on for a couple more minutes.

Remove the lid and season the vegetables with freshly ground black pepper and a few good pinches of sea salt flakes.  Add some dried Greek oregano, crushing the leaves between your fingers as you sprinkle over the vegetables to release its aromatic flavour.  Add the teaspoon of stock powder and mix all ingredients well.

Add the tomato paste to the saucepan and mix well to combine with the vegetables.  Allow the paste to cook for a minute or so, and then add the tin of crushed tomatoes.  Mix well to combine.

Pop the kettle on to boil.  Once the water is ready, pour enough water into the saucepan to fill a quarter of the way up the sides.  Put the lid on the saucepan and allow to boil for a few minutes.

Remove the lid, add the cooked beans and stir to combine with the vegetables.  Check the water level, and if not sufficient, add enough water until the beans are just covered.

Pop the lid back on the saucepan, reduce the heat to low and allow it to cook until the sauce has thickened and the beans are cooked.

Serve with a loaf of sourdough bread to help mop-up all the flavoursome tomato broth.


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