My mother owns Thanksgiving. Which is another way of saying that she is in charge of the turkey. We are, of course, with her in my sister’s kitchen every step of the way, mincing onions for stuffing, browning anchovy-studded breadcrumbs for the cauliflower, shredding Brussels sprouts, rolling out our pate brisee, whisking Scharffen Berger into chocolate pie filling, and providing moral support (and sometimes actual muscular support) when the bird makes its dramatic entrance into the 400°F oven. Because I don’t get to cook side by side with my mom and my sister very often, Thanksgiving Dinner is like the World Series for people like me — a heavily choreographed effort that I have always felt is just as fun to assemble as it is to actually consume.
The night before Thanksgiving? Another story altogether. We are all arriving at my sister’s house at different times with different levels of hunger and desires. (Read: We are all arriving with our children.) And in situations like these I’m not sure which is worse: Cooking up a “quick meal,” which before you know it fills the sink with a truly soul-crushing pile of ketchup-streaked dishes….or ordering a sad-sack pizza because in all the pre-game hype leading up to the big day no one even gave Thanksgiving Eve a thought until the moment we arrived. No one owned it.
The answer to this dilemma is, of course, the answer to almost all cooking dilemmas: To prepare something in advance. This year, in an effort to conserve my energy for game day, I will be concocting my favorite Tomato and White Bean Soup a week ahead of time, to serve on Thanksgiving Eve. This soup is magical all year long (and has appeared on this blog before in various incarnations), but I imagine would be especially so in this circumstance: It freezes beautifully, can be customized for vegetarians, pescatarians, and bacon-o-terians, and can sit on the stovetop to be served in shifts. Best of all, it is both substantial enough to satisfy, and healthy enough to keep us psychologically fit for eating our faces off the next night.
Tomato and White Bean Soup with Shrimp and Extras
If you have a vegetarian in the mix, omit the bacon and offer a few crumbled slices as an Extra instead. This batch serves 4-6, but doubles nicely if you have a large enough pot.
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 slice thick-cut smoky bacon
1⁄2 large onion, chopped
1 medium piece celery, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (optional)
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, a few tablespoons set aside
3 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, 2 cans with their liquid and 1 can drained and set aside
1 cup homemade chicken stock or unsalted store-bought chicken broth, plus a little extra for thinning out
In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over low heat and add the bacon. Cook 8 to 10 minutes, until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onion, celery, carrot, salt and pepper, and rosemary (if using) and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 8 minutes.
Add the diced tomatoes, 2 cans of beans plus their liquid, and the stock into the pot. The liquid level should be just barely above beans and vegetables. Bring to a simmer and cook until warmed through, about 10 minutes.
Turn off the heat. Puree with a handheld immersion blender or in batches in the blender (see warning). Add more stock if necessary and season with more salt and pepper to taste. Mix in the reserved can of beans, reserved tomatoes, and the bacon (crumbled into bits) and bring soup back up to a simmer.
Let cool completely. Freeze slightly flattened in zip-top bags. Flat bags make for much easier thawing – just run under water for a minute, then dump loosened soup into pot for reheating.
Garnish with extras (listed below) and a drizzle of oil.
[Warning: If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use your regular blender. Blend in batches, keeping in mind you shouldn’t shut the lid tightly or the trapped steam may cause a bean soup explosion. Hold the lid with your hand and keep it slightly ajar so some steam can escape as you blend. Place batches of pureed soup into a large bowl as you go, and when you are finished, add the whole thing back to the pot.]
Serve with Extras:
1 ½ pounds cooked, chopped shrimp (you can also make this ahead of time: simmer for 3 minutes in salted water; chill)
Crumbled bacon (if omitted from recipe), crispy country ham or prosicutto
Freshy grated Parmesan