“Did you puree this for me?”
My husband gazed at me appreciatively, his body speaking the special language he saves for gifts he really likes: eyebrows up but soft, hands clasped involuntarily below his sternum, weight suspended over the right foot, head slightly tilted. He was looking at a steaming bowl of rosemary-white bean soup, blended until silky smooth and topped with crisp pancetta and goat cheese, with the drooling anticipation he usually reserves for bratwurst and beer.
I was so tempted to say yes. Yes, dear, even with baby brain I remember everything about you at all times. But I’m told lies are bad.
If it had occurred to me to recall how much he loves smooth soups, I would have talked it up a little more. But I was thinking about how beautifully the beans had plumped up overnight, and about my cousin’s need for a nutrient-rich soup she might possibly stomach despite morning sickness, and about how a dog could harbor a deep love for raw, unadulterated kale and still possibly retain her identity as a dog.
In my mind, it started as run-of-the-mill minestrone. I had a fridge full of vegetables, and two gnarly heads of vagrant kale that had sprouted up from last year’s seeds when we weren’t paying attention. Jim harvested the best leaves and tossed them up onto the porch without thinking. Next thing we knew, Bromley was having herself a nutritious little snack.
No, I wasn’t thinking about pureed soup, I told him. I was just thinking I wanted something that looked a little fancy.
See, in this house, we believe in skirt theory. It’s simple—it’s just the well-conceived belief that you behave how you dress. A long to-do list used to mean I’d pull on a skirt and maybe some boots, both physical predictions of a productive, got-it-together sort of day. (Now, a skirt day means the nice yoga pants, but I find they actually have the same effect, provided I only wear them when I’m thinking about them as “nice clothing.”) Jim subscribes, only minus the skirt. His version usually has something to do with a sweater vest, or leather shoes.
What I never realized, until the last couple of weeks, is that there’s such a thing as dinner theory, too. It’s “you are what you eat,” not so much on a nutritional level, but on a psychological scale. I feel fine, and healthy, if I take the time to roast chicken and carrots. But blood orange-glazed carrots (with honey and cumin), whose points tuck under the chicken thigh just so? Even better. Making nice food at home makes me feel like I’ve got my shit together. It makes me feel more dressed.
I have been halvsing, believe it or not. In the kitchen, there’s a new general rule: I either test recipes during the day, or I cook dinner. I don’t do both. From an energy standpoint, it’s a great plan, one to which the baby—and my kidneys—seem to be responding. (Hooray!)
But mentally, oy, it’s tough. When I’ve been testing, dinner means 10 minutes, or 15, tops. I like cooking simple square meals for about 3 days, and after that, it sort of feels like wearing pajamas to work too many days in a row. Sometimes, you just need to wow yourself. And yesterday, minestrone was simply not wow enough. So that puree? Not so much for Jim. Sorry, honey.
On the other hand, I didn’t want anything complicated. I just wanted pretty.
I started by slicing a fat pinwheel of pancetta across its streaks of fat, rotating, unwinding, and slicing rhythmically, strip by little strip. I sautéed the meaty morsels until good and crisp, set them aside, then softened onions, garlic, and a good handful of rosemary until the whole house smelled piney. In went the white beans I’d soaked overnight and cooked that morning (you could use canned beans, of course), and some good chicken stock. Then, the blender, and two bowls, and the pancetta, and a few rough hunks of goat cheese, which melted into the soup as we stirred, there at the kitchen counter.
“This is why winter should last longer,” said Jim, scooping in another bite of fancy Sunday soup. I agreed, and made a mental note to put skirts on my soups every now and then. I think I’ll leave the blender out, too, just as a reminder.
Here’s a simple, easy soup that looks a lot more time-consuming than it is. If you use canned beans, make sure you salt the soup after you’ve pureed it, as some canned beans have more salt than others.
For variation, try topping the soup with the crispy kale from this potato-chorizo soup, from the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago.
TIME: 1 leisurely hour, start to finish (with inactive time)
MAKES: 4 servings
1 (1/4” thick) slice pancetta or bacon (about 1/4 pound)
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh rosemary
1 large garlic clove, crushed
4 cups good chicken stock or broth
4 cups cooked cannellini beans, from 3/4 pound dried or 2 (15-ounce) cans (drained)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 ounces goat cheese, roughly crumbled
Heat a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. Slice the pancetta across its grain into 1/4″ batons. Add pancetta to the pot, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate (leaving the grease in the pot) and set aside. Reduce heat to low, add onion, rosemary, and garlic, and cook and stir for 10 minutes, until the onion is soft.
Add a bit of the stock, bring to a simmer, and use a spoon to scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the remaining stock and the beans, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Blend the soup with a stick blender (or carefully, in small batches, in a regular blender) and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot, with reserved pancetta and crumbled goat cheese on top.