It used to be that whenever I whipped up a big pot of beans, I'd strain the cooking liquid directly down the drain.
This was back when I thought that, if you salted the beans while they simmered, they would never cook through, a culinary myth I bought into for years.
I was wrong on both counts. Salting beans gives them a richer, fuller and, well, saltier flavor. Ditto the broth: The added salt enhances the aromatics, making the broth as heady as chicken soup, minus the fowl.
This was abundantly clear when I stuck a spoon into a simmering batch of chickpeas destined for crostini. They smelled so good, so rich and herby that I couldn't resist snagging a mouthful. Then I immediately gave myself a mental kick for wasting all those tasty bean broths.
The broth was so flavorful that I decided to use it in a simple vegetarian version of an Italian egg-drop soup called stracciatella: To make it, whisk together an egg, a little grated lemon zest and some Parmesan, then whisk the mixture into simmering broth. It went very nicely with my chickpea crostini.
And it gave me the idea for a chickpea soup full of vegetables and garlic, finished with rosemary.
My plan was to keep everything streamlined, stirring in a few vegetables as the beans simmered. I didn't saute them, as I wanted to deepen the inherent flavors of the broth without introducing browned, caramelized nuances you get from searing in oil. Plus, it's much easier to throw everything into one pot.
Chickpeas have a gentle taste and go well with pretty much any vegetable, but I used what was on hand — carrots, celery, and some canned diced tomato — to add a little color and body to the broth.
Then, for serving, I took my cue from the stracciatella, sprinkling grated Parmesan, lemon zest, and a pinch of minced rosemary on top. It gave the soup just the right intensity and another hit of salt — which, so I've learned, goes very well with beans.
Chickpea Vegetable Soup With Parmesan and Rosemary
1 whole clove
1/2 onion, sliced root to stem so it stays intact, peeled
1 pound dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
1 sprig rosemary, plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped leaves
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons salt, more to taste
1 small Parmesan rind, plus 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 cup diced tomatoes, canned or fresh
2 medium carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
2 celery stalks, sliced 1/4-inch thick
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
Insert the clove into the onion. Put the onion in a large pot with the chickpeas, rosemary sprig, garlic, bay leaves, olive oil, salt, and cheese rind. Add 5 cups water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about an hour, or until chickpeas are tender.
Add the tomatoes, carrots, and celery, cover loosely, and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 25 minutes longer. While soup simmers, mix the chopped rosemary, grated Parmesan, lemon zest, and pepper in a small bowl.
Season the soup to taste and ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with the Parmesan mixture.
Yield: 6 servings