…at Shelley’s: Bean and Swiss Chard Soup

Shelley is, without a doubt, one of my best friends. She’s always there for me. Recently, she took care of Holly, my beautiful pitbull. “Big Girl”, as I call her lovingly, is best friends with Carlos, Shelley’s 85 pound Golden Retriever (aka “Big Boy). While I drove my mother back to the Inland Empire after her birthday and Mother’s Day extravaganzas here in Los Angeles, Shelley watched Holly. The two canines romp and growl, growl and romp in her backyard, while she works and watches their rough-housing. Shelley also loves to cook. What more can you ask of a friend? A dog-sitting service and a food goddess in one person. Wow!

Shelley loves to make beans but not just any beans, she sources the for freshest suppliers and looks for inventive ways to prepare the lovely legumes. We’ve had many conversations about our favorite and it really is Rancho Gordo by Steve Sando. Tastier than just buying regular beans at the market. Rancho Gordo brand is the best and you can truly taste the difference between chain store and his.

Shelley was kind enough to say to me after dropping off, Holly, “Do you want to stay for dinner when you pick her up? I made a pot of beans.” I’m like alright. Two hours to my mother’s place and then the drive back. Who wants to cook after all that driving? IHOP starts looking good by then. She took care of Holly, I can stay and eat too.

Bean & Swiss Chard Soup with Orzo
Bean & Swiss Chard Soup with Orzo

And she made a delicious bean soup. On this night, I was the sous chef to Shelly’s cooking. I peeled and smashed the garlic. Turned the rosemary and anchovies into a paste. Washed dishes. Shelley sauteed up the chard, browned the garlic and stirred in the paste. The dogs played happily and were under our feet.

Lulu, one of my other besties, came over in a chic new bob and joined us impromptu. She’s starting an urban gardening class in her backyard which is a pretty stellar idea. Lu is a pretty amazing gardner. In her Los Angeles urban backyard, she grows corn, melons, a variety of squash and lettuces. She picks raspberries, blackberries and blueberries for her morning breakfast. We’ve had fresh teardrop heirloom tomatoes and used the homegrown herbs to add addtional flavor to our dishes. Lemons, limes and grapefruit also start brightening up her trees around this time. When I lived with her, we had regular baby artichokes for grilling. A little homemade infused garlic oil for dipping….yum and directly from the farmer….Lulu.

There we sat, two dogs, two great women and me eating a flavorful soup of beans, vegetables and orzo. Talking and laughing. This is when life is great.

*Note: This is just one recipe…Shelley’s and its from my memory. There are a lot of recipes out there on this soup that includes bacon, pancetta, different beans. Whatever. Be adventurous.

1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy (2 cups), picked over and rinsed (Make the beans or use canned if it’s the weekday. Hey, we lead busy lives.)
2 anchovy fillets or anchovy paste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you want to keep it vegetarian)(Homemade stock is best, but let’s not quibble, not everyone is going to want to make their own or have the time. If you don’t make your own, buy organic stock and skip anything that requires a can-opener)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 lb Swiss chard (or Red or Rainbow, Kale and Spinach would do well too), stems discarded and leaves halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise

1. De-stem the chard and cut up the leaves.
2. Saute up the Chard (or spinach or kale or dark green leafy vegetable) until limp.
3. Set aside.
4. Take your pot, something to hold the liquid and place olive oil. Heat up the oil.
5. Peel, smash and place garlic in olive oil until brown. We are infusing the olive oil with the garlic. Remove the cloves.
5. Make a paste with chopped rosemary leaves and anchovy fillets. Add to infused garlic olive oil.
6. Stir until dissolved.
7. Add beans, chard and stock.
8. Get it to boiling and add orzo or small pasta.
9. Simmer until pasta is cooked.

Ladle into bowls and top with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with a crusty bread. Voila!