This French peasant soup, a savory, stew-like dish, satisfies the hungriest appetites and warms to the core on the coldest of winter days. “Soup is a wonderful and delicious way to eat well, to feel comfort, and to get vegetables and beans into your diet,” says Claire LaPia Criscuolo, cookbook author and owner of Claire’s Corner Copia, a vegetarian destination in New Haven since 1975.
Criscuolo loves the idea of “peasant foods,” basic dishes made simply, inexpensively, and with modest ingredients. “They feed both our souls and our bodies, often connecting us to our past or the past of other people,” she says, honoring her mother, a mainstay at the restaurant well into her 80s and the greatest soup maker she’s ever known, making a pot of soup every day year-round. “It was an affordable and nutritious way to feed her four children, and what we lacked in dollars Mom always made up for in her love, served on plates and in bowls. I’m forever grateful for her inspiration and lessons.”
A registered nurse, Criscuolo focuses on healthy home-cooked meals featuring fresh ingredients. Her restaurant is organic, sustainable, kosher, vegan and gluten-free. “My beloved Mom taught me to know the difference between real food and food filled with preservatives. Once you taste real food, you’re forever changed,” Criscuolo says. “Diet and better health are connected. Read the science and pay attention to how you really feel. It’s simple — better health for us, the environment, the animals. Everyone wins!”
French peasant soup is a versatile dish. “It can be a first course, or a perfect lunch with some good bread, but if you add a simple salad it’s a terrific dinner,” says Criscuolo, noting wine pairs well with it. “I’d love either a Sancerre, or my favorite drink, Prosecco, because who doesn’t want to celebrate something?”
French peasant soup
Preparation time: 20 minutes
- 12 ounces Great Northern beans
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ teaspoon dried basil
- 6 carrots, chopped
- ½ bunch celery, chopped
- ¼ cup parsley, chopped
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
- 1 small head green cabbage, chopped
- 5 medium potatoes, diced
- Salt, to taste
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large covered pot. Add the beans, reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
Chef’s tip: Criscuolo notes that some dry beans are very dry and you won’t know it until they start cooking, so she advises paying attention and reducing the heat if they’re boiling too high and the beans are still crunchy even after the recommended time. “Sit in the kitchen while your soup is cooking so you can stir as needed — open your mail, answer your emails, call your mother!”
Add the onions, garlic, olive oil, thyme, bay leaf, basil, carrots, celery, parsley, butter and cabbage. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1½ hours, stirring frequently, until the beans are nearly tender.
Add the potatoes, salt and pepper. Continue simmering for 30-45 minutes, until the beans are very soft and the soup is thick. Taste for seasoning.