Serve white bean soup with dumplings for hearty winter meal
They say that everyone complains about the weather -- winter especially -- but no one ever does anything about it. Well, here's something you can do that will make you feel much better. Cook up a big hot bowl of Italian soup for dinner, garnished with homemade -- and idiot-proof! -- dumplings.
Basically, this is a white bean and vegetable soup flavored with pancetta and garlic. It's thickened by pureeing a few cups of the cooked vegetables and stirring them back into the pot -- one of my favorite ways to thicken a soup because it's so simple. It also avoids dulling the soup's flavor, which is the problem that crops up when flour or cream is used to do the job. Afterward, you'll stir in some fresh lemon juice as a brightener. This is another of my favorite soup tips.
The pancetta makes its appearance as a supporting player, not the star of the show. If you'd like, you can swap in bacon instead. (Both meats are cured pork from the belly. The difference? Bacon is smoked. Pancetta is not.) And you're welcome to leave out the pork altogether.
The dumplings are comfort food and making them is, as mentioned, a fail-safe proposition. You start with fresh bread crumbs, which require nothing more intricate than pulsing fresh slices of bread in a food processor. (One slice turns into about ½ cup of crumbs.) Then just combine the crumbs with eggs and Parmigiano-Reggiano. You can roll the "dough" into balls and cook them right away, but the work is easier if you park it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes beforehand.
How to round it out? I recommend a nice green salad. Did someone mention winter? You've neutralized it.
• Sara Moulton is host of public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals." She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows including "Cooking Live." Her latest cookbook is "HomeCooking 101."