tomato-white bean soup with braised brussel sprouts and pancetta

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How is it that music can be so subtly reassuring sometimes?

Riding the subway yesterday afternoon, I got to thinking again about destination. Haven’t we always been obsessed with getting places? Arrivals and departures? When did I become so impatient? The ironic thing that I love about airplanes and flying, is that liminal space where all you have to think about is that you’re getting where you’re going simply by buckling your seatbelt. You don’t really have much to navigate beyond that for the next  hour … or two… or ten that you’re in the air.

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You see, I can get excited about the destination but have never been the best at planning… Maps have a history of irritating me; I’ve been known to forego them, at times, for the sake of a story (some taking longer than I’d hope to laugh about later).

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Mid-subway tunnel, some older men, voices overflowing with brilliance, begin harmonizing like nobody’s business. They’ve got beaten leather shoes on with pressed jeans and gold bracelets and baseball caps. Our subway car in its cacophony becomes at once calm, comforted. They’ve got hats from their heads in their hands shimmering with Lincolns. Light landing.

If only I could sing!

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I’m a sucker for beans. White beans in particular. They’re just so creamy, aren’t they? Almost in a fluffy mashed potatoes kind of way. You would think butter or cream had been swirled around with them.

I know, I said I was pretty much finished with soup for spring. And it’s true, few soups fit the spring-seasonal bill for me. But this one hugs the in-betweenness that is unsprung spring: (a sort of hybrid, if you will), it’s decidedly de-wintered but still has solace for a vaguely chilly March/April/hopefully-not-May-day.

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It’s part bright, chunky tomato-lemon, part cozy pancetta and peppery warm bean. Best of all? The brussel sprouts keep their shape and bite throughout, but they’re soaked with rosemary and salty pancetta. Did I mention pancetta?

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I couldn’t help but serve mine in a chipped favorite mug with a swath of warm flatbread. If you’re feeling particularly indulgent and want to play up the creaminess, add a small dollop of sour cream to those chives. Oh, the tangy, smoothness! Do ittttt!

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  • 3/4 lb. fresh brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
  • 2 15oz. cans cannellini beans
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes (from one 15 oz. can is fine)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pancetta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 3/4 cup unsalted chicken broth
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2-3 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon snipped chives (optional)

Heat olive oil into a large saucepan and add pancetta, tossing at medium-high heat until browned evenly,  about four minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove browned pancetta and set aside in a small bowl.

Using the oil rendered by the pancetta, arrange halved brussel sprouts in the same saucepan face down, sprinkle with salt and pepper and allow to cook until pan-side of brussel sprouts are browned. Remove sprouts from saucepan and set aside in the bowl with pancetta.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add more olive oil to the saucepan if needed. This time heat minced garlic, rosemary and red pepper flakes until fragrant, about a minute.

Add crushed tomatoes to the saucepan, stirring, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add freshly squeezed lemon juice and stir gently until tomatoes begin to bubble.

Add browned pancetta and braised sprouts back into the saucepan, and immediately pour in red wine and chicken broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add one and two-thirds can of cannellini and their juices to the saucepan. Blend the remaining third of the second can of beans in a food processor and then pour that into the saucepan as well. Season again with salt and pepper to taste.

Allow to simmer, stirring ocassionally until brussel sprouts are tender when pierced with a fork and juices have reduced slightly, about 15 minutes. Pour into bowls and garnish with snipped chives. Serve hot.

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