This Tuscan bean soup is a great way to make use of some pantry staples. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

Don’t even ask what makes this bean soup “Tuscan.” When one searches for Tuscan Bean Soup, recipes abound, all different. They all have some kind of beans from cannellini to kidney, some have capicola, pancetta or are made with chicken broth, have cheese, rosemary, basil, tomato, greens, you name it. I suspect asking for a Tuscan soup recipe is like asking for an American soup recipe. Which one would that be?

My dear old friend Jane Keener gave me this recipe in 1981. She found it in a Williams and Sonoma catalog. No meat, no broth, just cannellini beans, olive oil, garlic, bay leaves, basil, some lemon juice, simmered or stewed in a bean pot in the oven for a while. Half the concoction is pureed, returned to the mix, and heated a little longer. It’s a vegan dish long before we talked about veganism. And tasty! So good and warming in the kind of cold weather which I suppose you’ve noticed this week.

You can substitute Great Northern beans for cannellini if you want. You can use canned cannellini, too, if you have them. You can use chicken broth instead of water. I suspect the garlic is one of the main points here, so if you don’t like it, don’t bother making this recipe.

It’ll taste lovely with parmesan added. Without parsley or something green, it is simply white soup. My parsley is under 2 inches of ice at present and I’ll just shred some lettuce on it. Or you can stir in some shredded greens such as chard or spinach.

Mainly, this is a very economical dish.

This is another soup to serve with crusty bread. Good old crusty bread. There have been times when I imagined that other western cuisines, like French and Italian, have crusty bread while we have squishy bread mostly and crusty bread for special occasions. If all you have is squishy bread, toast some and run it under the broiler with some cheese on top.

Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves when you puree it, and remember that it’s necessary to cool hot stuff before pureeing it, otherwise it expands abruptly and you’ll be sprayed with hot liquid. Or else use a submersible blender — I love my stick blender.

You might want to eat this while next to a glowing stove or in the sunlight of a south facing window.

Tuscan Soup

Makes six to eight generous servings.

½ pound or 1 ½ cups dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight

2 quarts of water

2-3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon dried basil

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 teaspoons salt

2-3 large cloves of garlic, or to taste

Juice of half a lemon

¼ cup olive oil

Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Put the soaked beans into a bean pot with the two quarts of water, bay leaves, basil and olive oil.

Bake in the oven for two hours. Remove and add salt.

Put them back in the oven for another 30 minutes, then sample them to make sure they are soft. If necessary, bake a little longer until they are tender.

Remove half of the beans and puree, then return them to the pot and add garlic. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if desired.

Before serving, add the lemon juice and additional olive oil.

Serve, offering grated parmesan and crusty bread to accompany it.

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...