This Tuscan bread soup is a great cold day meal. It's essentially minestrone thickened with stale or toasted bread. Finishing with olive oil or even truffle oil adds a lushness to this dish that belies its humble origin. This dish becomes a staple at my restaurant Toscana in Wilmington, Delaware as soon as the the weather turns chilly.
1/4 Cup good olive oil
2 oz pancetta small diced (one or two thick slices then diced)
1 Medium diced red onion
2 Cloves minced garlic (optional)
1 Medium diced carrot
1 small diced zucchini
2 Ribs diced celery
3 Cups white cannellini or brown borlotti beans (canned is ok!)
4 Cups chicken stock plus reserved bean liquid
1 tblsoon tomato paste
1 Bunch Swiss chard -- in 1/2" ribbons
1 Bunch black cabbage (cavolo nero) -- in 1/2" ribbons (if available, if not, use kale or more swiss chard)
4 Slices country bread stale or toasted
1/2 Cup parmigiano -- grated
In a large 8 quart pot, heat oil, then render the pancetta. Add the garlic and just before it browns, add the onion. Add carrots, celery, zucchini, and beans and let that saute for a few minutes. Then add the tomato paste then the stock mixed with bean liqueur and bring to a boil. Lower the heat,and add chard, kale, or black cabbage and simmer 1 1/2 hours until everything is soft. Add the toasted bread and allow to cool overnight.
The following day, bring to a boil and break the bread up gently with a wire whisk.
Grate fresh parmigiano over the soup and finsh with a healthy dash of olive oil (or truffle oil)