I simply have not been able to get bean soup out of my mind ever since rounding up 10 favorite comfort soups for fall a few weeks back. When I was a child, my grandfather would cook up a pot of navy bean soup, complete with a ham hock, on cool fall or winter days. He would sit down in front of this steaming bowl with his favorite paring knife and a hot cayenne pepper he'd grown over the summer and preserved by freezing in a zipper bag, then carefully dice the cold hard pepper directly into the soup. A squirt of ketchup and a stir, and he was ready for whatever the rest of the day would bring. There's no ketchup in this version, but enjoy this take on my grandfather's soup, perfect with a glass of 2014 Squall California Red Blend. I hope this brings back a memory or two of the soups of your childhood.

Ingredients: (serves 4-6)

  • 12 ounces cannellini beans
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cups water
  • 12 ounces smoked slab bacon, cut into large dice*
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • Fresh sage cut into small ribbons, for garnish
  • Homemade croutons (optional)**

* Smoked slab bacon can be found at most butchers, or you can order it online. You may certainly also use regular thick-cut smoked bacon, cut into 1/2-inch squares.

** Croutons can easily be made by cutting day-old bread into cubes. Drizzle the cubes with olive oil and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Give it a quick stir, and bake in a 425° F degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until crispy.

Soak the beans overnight by covering them with 2 inches of water. The next morning, drain and pick through the beans, removing any debris. Place the beans in a large soup or stock pot, and add the chicken broth and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

While the beans are simmering, cook the bacon in a saucepan over medium heat until brown and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon, and add to the soup pot, reserving 1/4 cup for garnish. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease.

Heat the bacon grease over medium heat, and add the garlic, stirring until aromatic and slightly brown, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, onion, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the tomato paste and a splash of the bean cooking water, and mix until combined. Cook for another 2 minutes.

Add this mixture to the pot of beans along with the bay leaves, stirring to incorporate the ingredients. Continue cooking over a medium simmer, stirring occasionally for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until beans are soft. Add the diced tomatoes, and cook for an additional 8 to 10 minutes.

Ladle the soup into individual bowls.

Garnish with optional croutons, additional bacon, sage ribbons and a dash of your favorite hot sauce.

Not many things beat a warming bowl of bean soup on a cool fall day. Thanks for that memory, granddad.