Last October, the Onion published an article that began, “Immediately after sitting down on the living room couch and covering herself in a large cotton blanket, area girlfriend Amanda Bettman, 28, announced her intentions Monday to remain in this state for the next five calendar months.”

This satirical article captured my exact plan.  How did they know?!  Winter is for hibernating.

But before hibernation comes December, a busy month filled with joyous events that pack the calendar.  And that makes for a lot of busy evenings.  And for these busy evenings, I offer two easy bean soups that can be made from the same pot of beans.  To make things even easier, the beans can be made ahead of time and frozen.

The kitchen-changing revelation that beans can be frozen comes from Phoebe Canakis of Phoebe’s Pure Food, who shared it at a cooking class this summer.  You can make large quantities of beans or lentils and freeze them in freezer-safe containers the size you think your recipes will require.  I’ve tried freezing and thawing beans, and they’re excellent.  (Phoebe notes, though, that freezing canned beans will not work, so only do this with beans you soak and cook at home.)

Many people say they’ve had bad experiences cooking dried beans.  I’m among them.  The first time I bought dried beans I had no idea what I was getting into.  Not a clue.  Right after college, I purchased them as a key ingredient in some dip I was going to bring to a party and waited until about 45 minutes before I needed to leave to start cooking.  Needless to say, even following the quick soak method, I was more than fashionably late for that party.

But, for some reason, I kept bringing packs of dried beans back from the grocery store, probably for the same reason that I thrift shop and make chicken broth from scratch.  It just seemed like something frugal people do.

So, I’ve soaked beans overnight and with the quick soak method, and then puzzled over how long to cook them.  Astonishingly, most packages of dried beans don’t tell you how long to cook the beans, or even that they have to be soaked and cooked.  In my early legume experiments, I didn’t realize different kinds of beans had different cooking times (oh, how I’ve fretted over chick peas!).  And when I did realize that they required diverse cooking times, I just stuck them in a pot of water and boiled them.  The result?  Heaps of bland, mealy beans.

Then, low and behold, I read An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler, who has cooked at Chez Panisse, the restaurant founded by famed locavore Alice Waters.  Adler’s whimsical cookbook taught me how to make an acceptable pot of beans, and also how to make nice and fluffy scrambled eggs (for which you’ll have to read her book).

Here’s the method I follow now.

1. At about 8 p.m. the night before I want to cook beans, I try to remember to rinse and soak several cups of dried beans in a big pot of cold water, covered.  I like this method because seriously all I have to do is rinse and soak the beans.  I don’t have to babysit them for even a moment until I’m ready to cook them.

1a. But usually I forget.  All is not lost, however.  An hour before I start cooking, I use the “quick soak” method, rinsing the beans and bringing them to a 1-minute boil in that sturdy pot of cold water.  Then I soak them, covered, for an hour.

2. Once the beans have soaked, I discard the water they soaked in and fill the pot with fresh water, about a tablespoon of salt, the beans, any desired herbs and about 3/4 cup of chopped vegetables like onions, celery or carrots for my large soup pot full of beans.

3. Then I add some kind of fat or oil.  Think of beans as some kind of prize livestock you’re trying to fatten up.  Beans are not picky about the kind of fat.  If I happen to have some bacon or pancetta scraps, I’ll throw those in.  If I have a leftover fatty chunk cut from a roast, I will feed it to the beans and discard it after cooking.  If I don’t have any of these, I’ll add a few tablespoons of olive oil.  If the beans are cooking well, you will actually see them start to look fat and happy.  You can just tell.

4. Let the pot simmer for a long while but keep checking on it, tasting a few samples from different parts of the pot.

5. Once several of the samples reach full flavor and tenderness, I drain the beans while reserving the bean broth.  If the broth looks rich and smells hearty, I know the beans will be good.  If it looks pale and boring, the beans will be too.

And there you have it.  Following this method, I actually prefer these home-cooked legumes to canned ones.

Once you’ve cooked a big swimming pot of white beans, you’re ready to make two easy white bean soups.  For this recipe, cook 1 1/2 cups dried beans for a total of 4 1/2 cups cooked, and be sure to cook these beans with rosemary and six garlic cloves.


2 Easy White Bean Soups

Soup 1: White Bean & Tomato Soup // Soup 2: Rustic White Bean & Pesto Soup

  • Author: Becky Talbot, Adapted from the Joy of Cooking
  • Category: Soup


  • SOUP 1 (White Bean & Tomato):
  • 1 1/2 cups beans, cooked with 1 teaspoon rosemary and 6 garlic cloves
  • Bean broth
  • 1 plum tomato, chopped
  • 1/4 cup curly parsley
  • 4 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • SOUP 2 (Rustic White Bean & Pesto):
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • 4 tablespoons fresh dill
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 medium yellow or red candy onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 3 plum tomatoes, chopped and seeded
  • 1 red potato
  • 2 1/2 cups bean broth
  • 5 1/2 cups water
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 cups cooked beans
  • 1/4 cup elbow pasta
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1/2 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 handful chopped kale
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Prepare for Soup 2 by scooping out two cups of cooked beans and 2 1/2 cups of the bean broth and reserving these. Use the remaining beans and broth for Soup 1 (White Bean & Tomato).
  2. SOUP 1 (White Bean & Tomato):
  3. Bring remaining beans and broth to a simmer, add tomato, parsley, vinegar and desired salt and pepper and cook until heated through.
  4. SOUP 2 (Rustic White Bean & Pesto):
  5. To make the pesto, chop basil and dill in food processor. Stir in olive oil and parmesan cheese. Set aside. This can be made one day ahead.
  6. Saute onions, carrot and celery.
  7. Add tomatoes, potato, bean broth, water, turmeric and, if desired, salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 30 minutes. Check that potatoes are soft, then add the cooked beans, kale, zucchini, and green beans and cook according to time required in pasta directions. Stir in pesto and add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  8. Serve with a hearty slice of bread!

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