As a young man shopping in Boston's North End, a historically Italian neighborhood, chef Peter Pastan would watch customers at his local Italian market ask for the prosciutto skin. He had no idea what they did with it. Today he cures his own meats at his restaurants, then uses prosciutto skin to flavor and thicken soups like this tomatoey fresh shell bean soup. While the skin is optional here, it's easy to obtain—sometimes for free—from delis and meat counters.
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3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
One 3-ounce slice of pancetta, finely diced (1/2 cup)
5 garlic cloves, smashed
3 medium carrots, diced
3 celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch dice, plus 10 celery leaves, for garnish
1 large onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 fennel bulb, diced
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 rosemary sprig
1 basil sprig
4 large plum tomatoes—peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 pounds fresh cranberry beans, shelled (3 cups); see Note
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
One 3-by-3-inch piece of prosciutto skin (optional)
6 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
How to Make It
In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the pancetta and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, 4 minutes. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, onion, fennel, parsley, rosemary and basil and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, beans, potatoes and prosciutto skin to the casserole and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are just heated through, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Cook over moderately low heat until the beans are tender, about 40 minutes. Discard the prosciutto skin and the herb sprigs.
Partially mash the beans with a potato masher, or transfer 2 cups of the soup to a food processor or food mill and puree; return the puree to the casserole. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Garnish with the celery leaves and serve.
Any combination of fresh shell beans can be used. Cooking time will vary according to the variety of bean.
Pastan's fresh, lightly earthy shell bean soup pairs well with Pinot Noir, which often has a similarly earthy character. Sashi Moorman's Evening Land Vineyards makes a range of terrific Pinots. Another good choice is the lively, ruby-colored Samsara Melville Vineyard Pinto Noir.
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