A soup that is finished in the oven, and which is incredibly ribsticking, nourishing and delicious. The quantities given are large, so invite a lot of hungry friends, or save some for the next day. Italians show a penchant for eating their heartier soups as leftovers at room temperature. This may seem slightly unappetising, but believe me, one can acquire the taste. (Minestrone for breakfast?)
To cook the beans, drain and rinse them, and put in a large pan with the ham hock and approximately twice their volume of water. Bring to the boil, drain and discard the water. Replace with fresh cold water in the same proportion and return to the boil. Turn the heat down low and skim thoroughly. Add the bouquet garni and simmer until the beans are tender, between 1 and 2 hours, depending on the age of the beans (the older the drier, the longer to cook). Allow to cool in their liquor. Keep the bouquet garni. This part is the protein of the dish, the solid heart, now for the flavours.
To cook the soup, preheat the
Put the diced vegetables, apart from the potatoes, in an ovenproof casserole with
Cover the casserole and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. After this time check the soup is not completely solid. Add a little water if necessary, and the shredded greens. Stir, re-cover and return to the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and leave in a safe place, lid on, to cool down (it will be volcanically hot).
Serve directly from the casserole, opening it at the table. Offer grated Parmesan and new-season olive oil.
© 1996 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.