“Sinpannay; conpannay.” A man holding a white pad stood by our weatherbeaten outdoor table, gesturing from me to the Salad Queen. His face was turning red. We were so frazzed by our drive that we just didn’t get it. “Sinpannay. Conpannay.” He gestured back and forth, threw up his arms and stalked off. His thin cry of exasperation drifted out from the kitchen.
Our children, who were very young at the time, raced around in the green grass nearby. The mist from the mountains lent a cool counterpoint to the sun that had been frying us in the lowlands all morning. We were all relieved to be out of the car and here in the lush hills above Lucca, no doubt at exactly the time this wayside restaurant was about to close for the afternoon.
“Sinpannay; conpannay,” the man said under his breath some minutes later as he plonked two steaming bowls onto our table. He gave us a last look and backed quickly away as if whatever we had was catching. Both bowls gushed with vegetables – cabbage, chard, onion and zucchini – all swimming in a luscious broth. We dug in hungrily before we understood: we’d ordered exactly the same soup, one without and one with bread in the bottom of the bowl. ‘Sin pane’ and ‘con pane.’ We looked at each other and burst out laughing.
Here’s the Chez Bullhog version of the same.
Takes 6-8 hours
1 pound (2 1/8 cups) mixed beans or 16-bean soup packet
6 cups cold water
½ of a large onion split into 2 pieces
4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 heaping teaspoon of dried oregano
4 Tablespoons of olive oil
½ of a large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 handful of Italian parsley, chopped
10 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 large tomato, chopped
6 ounces of tomato sauce, preferably homemade
2 medium-sized zucchini, chopped
2 cups of cabbage, shredded
1 bunch of swiss chard, stripped from the stems and chopped
2 teaspoons of salt or to taste
Woodfired Oven note: This soup is slow-cooked in the falling heat of an oven that has already been hot. At Chez Bullhog we make it the day after baking bread or pizza. Restart your oven with a few small (1½” inch) sticks of hardwood and put the bean pot, Dutch oven or casserole off to one side of the fire. A small fire every hour or so is all it takes to keep the soup happy. See Moderating Fire in a Woodfired Oven for more on this.
Cook the beans: Put 1 pound of mixed beans (or the beans from a 16-bean soup packet) into an Italian bean pot, Dutch oven or large fireproof casserole with a tight-fitting lid. Add 6 cups of cold water, half of a large onion split into two pieces, 4 cloves of crushed and chopped garlic and a heaping teaspoon of dried oregano.
Build a fire to one side of your oven with a handful of kindling, 3 skinny sticks and 3 hardwood sticks that are 1½” thick. Put the covered bean pot on the other side. Let the fire burn for an hour or more until the fire is down to active coals. Make a second fire on top of the first and turn the bean pot around.
After 1 hour, the bean pot should be warm to the touch, after 2 hours it should be too hot to touch and after 3 hours the beans should be steaming. If after three hours the pot is not steaming, make a slightly larger fire and put in a medium-sized log. Otherwise, continue making small fires.
Add the seasonings: Heat 4 Tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add half of a large onion coarsely chopped, 3 cloves of minced garlic, 2 coarsely chopped carrots, 3 sprigs of finely chopped Rosemary, a handful of chopped Italian parsley and a small handful of chopped fresh thyme. Sauté 10 minutes until onion and carrots are wilted but not browned. Now stir in a bay leaf, a large chopped tomato, and 6 ounces of tomato sauce. Turn the heat down when the sauce is bubbly and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add this sauce to the beans. Make a medium-sized fire and continue cooking until the beans are tender – one to two more hours, depending on the level of heat and the age of the beans.
Add the vegetables: Finally add 2 chopped zucchini, 2 cups of shredded cabbage, and 2 cups of swiss chard, stripped from the stems and chopped. Add 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 cups of hot water, or enough to not quite cover the vegetables.
Simmer the soup for a further 30 minutes until the veggies are cooked through.
Serve the soup with a bit of parmesan cheese sprinkled over it, if desired. Or – if you really want to, you can put some bread in the bottom of the bowl and pour the soup over it. Here at Chez Bullhog, however, we prefer to serve a big crusty loaf on the side!
Copyright ©2012 by Don Hogeland