There are some nice things about waking up to the automated phone message: Schools Closed Due to Inclement Weather. Sleeping in, for starters. (Though the novelty of this wears off at 8:01, which is usually about the time I first hear “Mom, I’m borrrrrred.”) Another nice thing: The realization that I was fired last year, so I am no longer required to report to an office, i.e. we are no longer gripped by panic about who is able to stay home with the kids and who absolutely cannot miss the status meeting at 10:00. (The novelty of this has yet to wear off.) And then, of course, there’s the warm-your-bones cooking. When I am snowed in my house with the kids, some primal instinct kicks in and demands that I make buttery cakes, cheesy pastas and fatty braised meats. Which, I think you’ll agree is pretty great, until the sixth time in fourteen days that you wake up to the automated message that School is Closed Due to Inclement Weather (not exaggerating) and realize you have gone through eight sticks of butter and feel like you can live off your fat until spring break. I think that’s why on Snow Day Six — which came exactly one day after Snow Day Five — I woke up determined to fight through my Land o’ Lakes hangover and replicate the tomato white bean soup my dad and I used to order at the Oyster Bar (minus the rock shrimp). The soup seemed to have all the hallmarks of a great snow day dinner (long cooking time, an ingredient list that is easy on the pantry, an aromatic oniony smell that could properly permeate an icicle-rimmed house) and none of the butter. Just a little tiny eensy-weensy piece of bacon.
Tomato and White Bean Soup
Though I haven’t tried it myself, I’m sure you could use canned beans and turn this dinner into a quick weeknight meal, i.e. the very opposite of a snow day cooking project.
Soak about 10 ounces of Great Northern or cannelini beans in water (covering beans by 2 inches) for 6 hours. Drain beans then add them to a large stockpot, covering them with water by two inches. (You can add a piece of bacon to the water here if you’d like, but I’d skip it in the next step if you do this. Remember — the name of the game is healthy!) Bring beans to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for an hour, adding water as they cook to keep the liquid level higher than beans. When beans have finished cooking, don’t drain — keep them in simmering liquid, but turn off the heat.
In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, add a few glugs of olive oil and a slice of bacon. Add 1/2 large onion (chopped), 1 piece of celery (chopped), and 1 large carrot (chopped). Add salt and pepper and a 1/2 teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary (optional) and cook until vegetables are soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add 1 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes (I am writing this a week later, and I might have added a little less than that — can’t remember — but your pot should at this point look like the picture below.) Add a little more salt. Pour the beans and their liquid into the vegetables, reserving about 1 cup of beans. If the liquid level does not look like the picture above, add chicken or vegetable broth until it does. Remove the bacon, chop into small pieces and add back to pot. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup, adding water or broth until it reaches desired consistency. (Or, add to a blender in batches — keeping in mind you shouldn’t shut the blender lid tightly or you might have an explosion. Hold the lid with your hand and keep it slightly loose so some steam can escape as you blend. Place pureed soup in a large bowl and when you are finished, add the whole thing back to the pot.) Add your reserved beans and serve with lots of Parmesan, olive oil, and crusty bread.