I didn’t grow up in Italy, nor is my family Italian, but my mom was big into making beans and she had her own version of Tuscan Bean Soup that frequently appeared on our dinner table. So this is one of those dishes that really bring me back to my childhood.
But, when I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s there was no such thing as the internet and we didn’t have fancy natural food stores like Whole Foods Market in our local area. So the ingredients my mom used in her Tuscan Bean Soup (as well as all of her other recipes) were always conventional, standard items you could pick up at a mainstream supermarket. But with so many exotic ingredients readily available to us all online these days, I like to experiment with new foods when possible. Not only is it fun to try new ingredients, but from a nutritional standpoint diversity is a great way to fill in nutrient gaps. If you eat the same foods day after day then your overall nutrient intake is restricted to the nutritional profile of those few foods. If you have our Clean Cuisine nutrition book, then you know the more diverse your diet, the better (assuming of course that the foods you eat are in fact actually healthy!)
So, although my Tuscan Bean Soup recipe can absolutely be made with common ingredients, including the conventional cannellini bean, I also wanted to introduce the option of trying a new kind of heirloom bean for those of you who are up for a little culinary diversity….
Try Swapping Heirloom Cranberry Beans for Cannellini Beans in Your Tuscan Bean Soup
If you are up for trying something new with your Tuscan Bean Soup, consider swapping Heirloom Cranberry Beans for the conventional cannellini beans. Heirloom beans are open-pollinated seeds that can be planted and you’ll get the exact same bean. They tend to have a lower yield and can be much more difficult to grow but the pay off is in the unique flavors and textures that you don’t find with the more bland conventional beans.
Heirloom Cranberry Beans are soft and dense with a velvety, rich texture. The thin skins help produce a rich bean broth, making it the perfect bean for Tuscan Bean Soup.
In all likelihood though, you will not find heirloom Cranberry Beans at your local supermarket, so you’ll have to order them online. I get mine from Rancho Gordo in Napa California.
But again, if you don’t have the time or inclination to seek out heirloom Cranberry Beans, your Tuscan Bean Soup will still be absolutely delicious made with cannellini beans. No need to stress (wink).
- 1 whole head of garlic
- 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 1/2 cups dried Heirloom Cranberry Beans OR Cannellini Beans, soaked overnight
- 1 4-inch Parmesan rind
- 3 sprigs rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
- Pink Himalayan salt, to taste
- White pepper, to taste
- 1 Spanish onion, chopped
- 3 celery stalks, chopped
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup whole grain penne pasta (see notes below for pasta brand suggestions)
- 2 heads escarole, leaves torn into 2-inch pieces
- Heat the oven to 400°F: Set a rack in the middle position. Peel (most of) the paper off the garlic: Use your fingers to peel away all the loose, papery, outer layers around the head of garlic, but leave the head itself intact. Trim about 1/4 inch off the top of the head to expose the tops of the garlic cloves. Drizzle 2 teaspoons of olive oil over the exposed surface of the garlic, wrap the garlic in foil and roast for 40 minutes.
- While garlic is roasting, bring beans, Parmesan rind, rosemary, bay leaves and 8 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, adding more water as needed, until beans are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Season with salt and pepper, remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 30 minutes.
- While beans are cooking, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add the onions, celery and carrots. Saute vegetables for about 8 minutes, or until soft, Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add tomatoes, crushing with your hands, and cook, stiring often, until liquid is almost completely reduced, 12 to 15 minutes.
- Remove the garlic from the oven and set aside to cool. Squeeze each garlic clove out of its paper, mash lightly with a fork and add to the tomato-vegetable mixture. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until liquid is completely evaporated, about 8 minutes.
- Add the tomato-vegetable mixture to the pot of beans and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Add the pasta and cook, adding more water if necessary, for 15 minutes. Add escarole and cook until wilted, about 1-minute. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.
P.S. Looking for More Everyday Healthy Dinner Recipes?
If you liked the Tuscan Bean Soup recipe, be sure to check out a full month’s menu of delicious healthy dinner recipes (including weekly shopping lists!) in our Clean Cuisine Dinners digital cookbook.