Imagine relaxing in a village café, overlooking the enchanting, picturesque Italian countryside, enjoying warm sun and soft breezes while you savor the soup du jour; a perfect tomato-basil soup ............or is it? ............
............ thick and rich, loaded with classic flavor ............. yet there's something more ............something different, something unique.......... In fluent Italian (we're imagining, remember?) you ask the waitress and she clarifies; though the soup does include tomatoes and basil, it's actually a Tuscan Chickpea Soup, common and beloved throughout this region of Italy............. Really? Chickpeas?
Yes, and most likely the most delicious chickpeas you'll ever taste. I'm not sure how they make it in Italy but I added carrots, celery, onions and garlic along with the chickpeas for lots of great nutrition. I roasted the all the veggies till golden and caramelized before a slow simmer in a bath of chicken broth, fire-roasted tomatoes and fresh herbs. The final step was a whirl with my stick blender, pureeing the fragrant mixture till smooth and silky.
The result? Fabulous. It was lunchtime. I floated a bit of fresh mozzarella on top and made a quick gremolata (an Italian condiment/garnish made from finely minced herbs, garlic and lemon zest). For just a minute, I imagined myself .......... relaxing in a village café, overlooking the enchanting, picturesque Italian countryside, enjoying warm sun and soft breezes while I savored the soup du jour; a perfect tomato-basil soup ............or is it? ............
P.S. Besides the fact that this soup is ridiculously delicious, I love that the chickpeas add a ton of extra protein and fiber. They also have a low glycemic index which make this soup more satisfying and will help ward off hunger pans much longer than your average bowl of soup does!
Tuscan Chickpea Soup w/ Melting Mozzarella and Rosemary Gremolata
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 cloves garlic, peeled
4 large carrots, peeled and chopped in two-inch pieces
2 stalks celery, chopped in two-inch pieces
2 medium onions, peeled and cut in quarters
2 cans chickpeas (15 ounces, 425g), drained
2 teaspoons sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
8 cups low sodium chicken broth, more if needed to thin
2 28-ounce cans canned tomatoes (I like to use Italian plum tomatoes or diced, fire-roasted tomatoes)
4 4-inch sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
¼ cup fresh basil, packed
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
Ingredients for the gremolata:
1 tablespoon finely minced rosemary
1 tablespoon finely minced parsley
zest of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, finely minced
a pinch of crushed red pepper
1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
2. Place first 7 ingredients on a large rimmed baking sheet. Toss to coat all veggies with oil. Sprinkle liberally with freshly ground black pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, or until chickpeas and veggies are beginning to turn golden and caramelize. Stir every 10 minutes during roasting time.
3. While veggies are roasting combine chicken broth, tomatoes, rosemary and bay leaves in a large dutch oven or stock pot. Bring to a simmer. Add veggies when they are finished roasting.
4. Simmer over low heat for 45 minutes. Veggies should all be super tender. Remove from heat, pull out rosemary stems and bay leaves. Add fresh basil. Puree with either a stick blender, a traditional blender or a food processor. If using a traditional blender or food processor, allow soup to cool down before blending. If soup is too thick, add a bit more chicken broth to thin to desired consistency.
5. For the gremolata combine the rosemary, parsley, lemon zest, crushed red pepper and garlic in a small bowl.
6. Ladle hot soup in to bowls. Break mozzarella into small pieces (about the size of a sweet cherry). Working with two or three at a time, place pieces of cheese on a small plate at microwave on power level 5 for about 10 seconds or just until cheese is beginning to soften. Pick up one piece of cheese, stretch it out a bit and lay it in a circular pattern on top of soup. Sprinkle with gremalata (herb mixture) and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. Repeat with other servings of soup, warming more cheese as needed. Enjoy!
This recipe makes a fairly large pot of soup but it freezes well and, honestly, it won't last long. It's perfect for lunch but also makes a hearty dinner along with a simple green salad and a loaf of warm, crusty bread.
8-10 main course servings