Tuscan bean soup with herby croutons

4, with leftovers

The essence of good Italian food is simple: fresh ingredients and some time-honoured, traditional tricks. For a truly hearty meal, fill up on this Tuscan bean soup, developed by our food editor, Emma Winterschladen. For an authentic Tuscan twist, use nepitella, a perennial plant of the mint family that grows in abundance in Tuscany. Also known as lesser calamintha, this fragrant herb is easy to grow here in the UK, making it a lovely addition to your culinary herb garden.

Ingredients

  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 white onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 5 sage leaves
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary, leaves only
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 500g dried, mixed legumes (lentils, peas, barley, black-eyed beans)
  • 280g fresh tomatoes, diced
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Sea salt and black pepper

To serve

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 slices of any bread, roughy ripped into chunky pieces
  • Handful of fresh herbs, roughly chopped (sage, thyme, nepitella)
  • 2 tbsp Parmesan, grated (optional)

Method

  1. Dice the celery, carrot, onion, garlic and sage until they are as fine as possible. Add your olive oil to the pan, followed by the vegetables. Slowly heat up the oil, gently frying for ten minutes until the vegetables start to change colour.
  2. Rinse the legumes in water and add to the pan (you can soak beforehand but there’s no need with this recipe). Stir well to cover them in the oil and vegetable mix, then add a litre and a half of warm water.
  3. Add the fresh tomatoes into the pan. Bring the mixture up to the boil and allow it to simmer uncovered for around an hour and a half. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
  4. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan with the rosemary, and fry the bread pieces to make crispy croutons. Serve the soup with a swirl of olive oil, fresh herbs and a sprinkle of Parmesan.