Start with one bag dry white beans. I used navy because that's what I had on hand, but northern would be just as good. Follow the directions on the bag to prepare the beans. If you are planning ahead, soak overnight, drain and rinse the soaking water, then add to the soup pot and simmer all day. As is typical for me, I did not prepare ahead. This meant bringing the beans to a boil, turning the heat off and letting them sit an hour or two. Drain, rinse, and begin the recipe.
Warning: I don't always measure. I'll do my best to give measurements, but sometimes, you just have to look at it and use your best judgment. This is especially true of things like soups and stews.
Use a good size stock pot. In olive oil, saute 1 large chopped onion and about a cup and a half each - chopped celery, carrot, kale - until softened, but not brown. With the kale - I did not use the stems or ribs, just the leaves. Add 3 chopped garlic cloves, and saute a little longer.
Add the beans, 2 quarts water, and two bay leaves. At this point, you can cover and let the soup simmer covered for 2 - 3 hours, or you can put it in a crock-pot on low for 6-8 hours. I cooked mine on the stove today. When the beans are tender, I like to smash some of them with my soup ladle, to make the broth creamy.
In the last hour or so of cooking, I added fresh cracked pepper, and some McKay's Chicken-style Instant Broth and Seasoning. I waited until the beans were tender, because it's high in sodium and I've read that salt can toughen your beans. I don't know if it's true, but it's just as easy to add salt and/or salty seasonings at the end! It's important to taste test to make sure you don't over do it with this. I add just a tablespoon at a time, tasting in between.
And that's it! I do think this would be delicious with some vegan Italian sausage cut in chunks, cooked in a little olive oil, and added in before serving, but I didn't miss it at all, and the beans provide a hearty, filling dinner without the sausage.
Now for the bread....
I've been following the basic recipe for Artisan Bread In Five Minutes for years now. Please check out their website for more recipes and all the background information about this baking technique. It's wonderful - mostly for liberating me from the need to knead the dough! I like my bread to have a good, crunchy crust, and light, airy inside. Here is how I've modified the recipe to fill my needs:
In my standing mixer: 3 cups warm water + 2 1/2 TBS yeast + 1/4 cup sugar or honey (the sugar feeds the yeast, helping it rise.) Let it sit 5 or 10 minutes, until the yeast is foamy.
Add 1/4 cup canola oil, 1 1/2 TB kosher salt, and 6 cups of flour - a little at a time.
The dough will be sticky. Be careful not to add too much flour, that's what makes bread dense. Remove the beater from the mixer, cover the bowl, and let it sit. I sprayed the lid to my bowl with oil to keep the rising dough from sticking. After an hour or two - the dough literally lifted the lid off the bowl!
This is enough for 3 loaves. I coated my hands with flour and pulled out 1/3 of the dough, shaping it into a loaf, put it on my silpat on a cookie sheet, covered and let it rise again, about an hour.
The rest of the dough goes in the fridge for loaves later this week. I'll just bring it to room temperature before rising and baking.
Back to today.... Preheat the oven to 400 and put an old jelly roll pan on the bottom rack during the preheat. When ready to back, cut slits in the top of the loaf, put it in the oven, and pour cold water on the bottom pan - creating steam. Close the oven door and let bake about 20 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown.
Resist all temptation to cut into the bread before it has a chance to cool. It can ruin the texture!
Our bread is almost gone, and there are only two of us here tonight. I love dipping it in the soup broth. So good - it doesn't need butter. And I will never knead dough again.