Gennaro’s Pasta & Bean Soup

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Gennaro Contaldo: native of Minori on the Amalfi coast; fungi-finder general; curler of the most intricate and delicate pastas; as hospitable and generous as a man can be; and brewer of soups to warm the cockles of the hardest of hearts. Gennaro cooked me this soup when I was feeling particularly blue and it cheered me to the rafters. He served it on a tray next to a pile of beautifully wrapped antique tomes on ‘world shipping’.

Ingredients

  • 500g/1lb 2oz dried borlotti beans, soaked overnight in cold water
  • 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus the bottle for drizzling
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
  • 2 small carrots, finely chopped
  • 100g/oz pancetta, finely chopped
  • 1 large potato, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 fresh sage leaves
  • A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • A handful of fresh parsley stalks, finely chopped
  • 2.5 litres/ pints vegetable stock
  • 200g/7oz pearl barley
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, to finish

Method

Drain the soaked borlotti beans. Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrots and pancetta and cook until softened. Stir in the potato and herbs, then add the drained beans. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and gently simmer for 1½ hours.

Rinse the pearl barley in a sieve, then drain and add to the pan. Continue to cook at a gentle simmer on a low heat for a further 1¼ hours. Check that the beans and barley are cooked before removing from the heat (if they’re not, cook for longer).

When it’s ready, serve the soup ladled into bowls, with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of Parmesan for an extra rich hit.

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