Monday, January 25

Recipe: Paula Butturini's Zuppa di Fagioli / Italian White Bean Soup

Paula Butturini is the author of Keeping the Feast, a memoir in which food plays a central theme. You can read my review of it here. The book doesn't include recipes, but Paula was kind enough to answer my last minute request for a favorite simple cold weather dish, offering up this healthy and comforting Italian soup.

After cooking some up over the past grey and rainy weekend, I can see why her family likes it so much. A big pot of this soup in the fridge is the perfect thing to have on hand for quick, tummy-warming meals and filling, after-chore snacks.

Onions and tomatoes and carrots and a meaty smoked ham hockoh my!

Paula Butturini's Zuppa di Fagioli / Italian White Bean Soup
(My version made about 9 cups)

Paula says:
Whenever it's snowing, or simply dank and cold, my family likes eating sturdy soups to ward off mid-winter chills. This hearty Italian soup—which can be made with any dried white beans or a combination of varieties—warms our kitchen while it's cooking and warms us through when we sit down to eat it.

You can speed the whole process by using a 20-oz can of good quality, canned, white or cranberry beans, and using only 3 to 4 cups of water. In that case, you simply skip Steps 1 and 3, and add the canned beans and water to the stockpot at the end of Step 2.

My notes:
This is the sort of recipe that invites improvisation and experimentation. You could make it ten different times and end up with ten different soups—all of them good. Just use what you have on hand and personalize the pot to suit your taste.

I tend to prefer thick (dare I say sludgy?) soups to brothy ones, so I reduced the amount of water, upped the veggies, and added extra beans (I used canned organic cannellini beans, also known as white kidney beans).

For the pork portion, I used a small but meaty smoked ham hock from the locally raised hog we bought a while back and had butchered to our specifications (and which has sadly just about all been eaten up). Good call—it added a wonderful smoky flavor.

After the soup finished simmering, I cut the meat from the bone and into small pieces, then stirred the ones I didn't pop in my mouth back into the pot.

If you want to make a vegetarian version, you could toss in some fresh (or even dried) herbs to add more depth. It would probably also be very tasty made with good chicken stock instead of water.

Next time I'll stir in some kale (I still have a beautiful bag of homegrown 'cat cabbage' in the fridge) or Swiss chard (my favorite garden green), or maybe even a few big handfuls of fresh spinach. A little chopped arugula (so easy to grow!) sprinkled on top just before serving would add a nice zippy touch.

My plan was to cook the soup and serve it the next day, waiting, as Paula suggests, to add the pasta until then. But the texture ended up so thick that I decided the macaroni might seem out of place and simply left it out. Don't skip the parsley and Parmigiano, though—they're the perfect finishing touch.

I love cozy soup season.

Paula's original recipe is below, with my changes noted in parentheses. As always, I urge you to seek out locally produced and organic ingredients—they really do make a difference.

1 cup dried white or cranberry beans (I used two 15-ounce cans of cannellini beans)
2 quarts water (I used 2½ cups)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped (I used 2 cups)
1 large carrot, finely chopped (I used 1 slightly mounded cup)
2 stalks celery, with their leaves, finely chopped (I used 1 slightly mounded cup)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I used 1½ Tablespoons)
1 ham bone, 1 pork rib, or 1/4 lb. salt pork (I used a 10-ounce smoked ham hock)
Small can Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped (I used a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes)
1½ teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup small, tubular macaroni (I left it out)
Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese (I used 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano)
Handful of finely chopped fresh, flat-leaved parsley (I used 1/2 cup)

1. (I skipped this step since I used canned beans.) In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan, bring the dried beans and 2 quarts of water to a boil over high heat; let boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let beans soak for 1 hour.

2. While beans are soaking, finely chop the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot and sauté the onion over medium heat until lightly colored. Add the carrots, celery, and garlic plus ham bone, pork rib or salt pork and continue sautéeing for about 5-10 minutes. (I turned the ham hock every few minutes so each side would brown.)

Then add chopped tomatoes and simmer 10 minutes. (I added 1/2 cup of water with the tomatoes, simmered 10 minutes, then added the two cans of beans and 2 more cups of water.)

3. (I skipped this step.) Once the beans have soaked for an hour, drain them, making sure to save the bean water. Add enough additional cold water to make 2 quarts. Then add beans and the 2 quarts of bean water to the vegetables in the stockpot.

4. Bring contents of stockpot to a boil, then cover and cook over low heat for about 50 minutes, until vegetables are tender (I cracked the lid and simmered for 60 minutes). Remove ham bone, pork rib or salt pork. (I cut the meat off the ham hock and stirred it back into the blended soup.)

You can pass half the vegetables through a food mill back into the pot, the way this soup is usually served in Italy, or you can pass the entire contents of the pot through a food mill, or use an immersion blender to purée the soup lightly. (I used my KitchenAid hand blender for three seconds on speed number three. I love that thing. I also love my Oxo Good Grips food mill.)

Don't over-process, as it tastes best when it still has some texture. If the soup seems too thick, you can add water to thin it; every batch seems to absort different amounts of liquid.

5. Add salt and pepper, then bring soup back to a boil and add the pasta, cooking it about 2 minutes less than called for on the box. Let the soup stand covered for 10 minutes, then stir in the parsley and Parmigiano and serve immediately. (I garnished the bowls of soup with more parsley and cheese.)

Paula's note: You can prepare the entire soup ahead of time—it actually tastes better if it spends a night in the fridge and is reheated the next day—but DON'T cook the pasta until you're ready to serve it, or the macaroni will turn to an unappetizing mush. (I cooked the soup, let it sit in the fridge overnight, then reheated it on the stove, stirring in the cheese and parsley just before serving.)

How about some homemade bread to go with your soup?
Beyond Easy Beer Bread (my most popular recipe)
Whole Wheat Beer Bread
Onion Rye Beer Bread
Savory Feta Cheese & Scallion Scones

Easy Rosemary Focaccia
How To Make Pita Bread
No-Knead Crusty Freeform Bread
Oatmeal Toasting Bread (makes great rolls, too)
Fresh Tomato & Basil Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
Carrot Herb Rolls (and a beautiful bread book for beginners)

And here are some more Less Fuss, More Flavor soups:
Simple & Healthy Swiss Chard Artichoke Soup
Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Artichoke Soup
Cream (or not) of Artichoke Soup With Garlic, Onions & Garbanzo Beans
Broccoli Onion Garbanzo Bean Soup
Susan's Super Spinach Soup

Garlic Lover's White Bean Soup (fat free, vegan, & delicious!)
Hearty Lentil Soup with Smoked Sausage
Use It Or Lose It Lentil & Escarole Soup
Spur Of The Moment Summer Squash Soup
Simple Summer Harvest Soup
Simple Summer Harvest Soup: The Autumn Version
And in summer, there's Quick & Easy Gazpacho

Still hungry? You'll find links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.

©, the soup's on foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, and photos from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres—and the simplest dishes are often the very best.


  1. O my goodness! That looks delicious! And just the perfect recipe for a cold, winter's evening. THanks for sharing.


  2. Mmm this looks so delicious! I will definitely be printing this recipe out. Thanks for posting it!

  3. This looks so delicious, perfect for a Sunday afternoon...especially in winter!

  4. Sounds great! Just had a root canal today and I need some soft food and great good luck, I have all the ingredients on hand.
    From a sister California to Missouri transplant who doesn't farm but does belong to the local CSA.

  5. Oh thanks so much. I love soup and I love white beans.
    (Also love your bran muffins which are
    a staple here.)

  6. The soup looks delicious. I just copied off the recipe and I cannot wait to try it.
    Thanks so much!!!

  7. Yep - I bet I try this one as soon as I'm done with the Chickpea Tomato soup (recipe going live tonight).

    Looks lovely and, you know, totally delicious.

  8. Oh this looks really delicious! Perfect for this time of year!

  9. Oh, this does look delicious! Thanks for sharing the recipe and I'm going to give it a try in the next couple of days. Perfect for a cold, gray winter day!

  10. There is no pasta, only [fa] Zuul....

    I made my own zuppa di fagioli recipe by taking my favorite bits out of several old-timers' recipes. I use bacon instead of ham (I use hot sausage in my minestrone). Yours has a real nice color, which we could smell through the internet.

    ~ Aili

  11. Made this over the weekend with a smoked shank and chicken stock. It was the best soup I've ever made.

  12. I'm making this soup for a family meal this weekend- can anyone suggest a bread that would go well with it? Maybe something with herbs or cheese? Or Olives?
    Thank you!
    I love the website and read it frequently :-)

  13. Hi Ellen,
    So glad you liked it! Thanks for taking the time to come back and let us know.

    Hi Diana,
    At the end of this post I've linked to some of my favorite bread recipes, and most (if not all) of them would go really well with this soup.

    The Parisian Daily Baguettes are always a hit, and you could add some herbs to the dough. The rosemary focaccia is very nice and easy to make. The little olive cheeks are Italian and addicting! : )

  14. This soup looks delicious and I can't wait to make it...I was just wondering if anyone has tried using Italian Sausage instead of the ham?

  15. Hey Anonymous,
    I haven't made made this with Italian sausage, but I bet it would be good. What's great about this sort of recipe is that it's so open to interpretation - and every variation is usually delicious. : )

    If you do try making your soup with Italian sausage, I hope you'll come back and let us know how it came out.

  16. You know, I bet you could hit this with the stick blender or food processor and make a really yummy bean dip out of some of the leftovers. I'm all about the recipes doing double or even triple duty when they can.


December 2015 update: Hi! For some reason I can't figure out, Blogger hasn't been letting me leave comments on my own blog (!) for the last several months, so I've been unable to respond to your comments and questions. My apologies for any inconvenience! You're always welcome to email me: farmgirlfare AT gmail DOT com.

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