During the summer, I rely on salads to transform my weekly farmers market haul into impromptu dinners; in autumn and winter, it's soups. Freezer beans make bean soup a tasty weeknight option, with the added benefit of being able to throw the bean cooking liquid into the pot for extra flavor. (Canned beans can be used, but don't use the liquid they are stored in. Just add a little extra stock instead.)
It only takes a couple strips of bacon to infuse the soup with a pleasant smokiness. Where I go heavy is with the vegetables, a couple of my fall favorites. Cubed butternut squash only takes about ten minutes to soften in the simmering broth, while you chop a bunch of chard into thin strips. When the squash is soft, the chard goes in, cooking down for just a couple minutes, until it is silky-soft and still bright green.
Vinegar is the last ingredient, rounding out the heavy flavors of the beans and bacon, the sweetness of the butternut squash and the slightly bitter greens. Every bite of this soup includes a little of each — it's a satisfying, warming meal that feels just right for fall.
Bean, Bacon and Butternut Squash Soup with Swiss Chard
2 strips bacon
2 cups diced butternut squash (1/2-inch cubes)
1 1/2 cups cooked beans, plus cooking liquid
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 bunch Swiss chard
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Cut the bacon strips in half lengthwise, then thinly slice crosswise. In a large pot over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp, stirring frequently. If there is a lot of fat, spoon off most of it, leaving just a thin film in the pot. Add the squash and stir, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the beans, bean cooking liquid and the stock, and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, or until squash is tender.
Meanwhile, remove the tough stems and ribs from the chard and cut leaves into thin strips. When the squash is tender, add the chard to the soup and stir. Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until chard is soft and still bright green. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Just before serving, stir in the vinegar.
• Although you can use any type of cooked bean in this soup, Jacob's cattle beans or cranberry beans have a size and texture I especially like — and Jacob's cattle beans retain some of their beautiful spots even after cooking.
• The color of the Swiss chard will eventually dull, so this soup looks its best right after making it. (Though the leftovers will still taste great!)
• If substituting canned beans, use one 15-ounce can of beans, drained and rinsed, and add an additional cup of stock in place of the bean cooking liquid.
(Image: Anjali Prasertong)