Tuscan Bean Soup is one of those quick, easy Italian favorites that you can prepare in a little over 30 minutes. It’s also one of these great Italian recipes which has no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ recipe.

The two staple ingredients are tomatoes and Cannellini beans – but aside from those, you can pretty much ring the changes to suite your taste.

This is what you’ll need:

– a 400g tin of Cannellini beans

– a 400g of chopped tomatoes (ideally, Italian)

– 1 or 2 cloves of garlic – a dried hot red chilli pepper

– 500ml vegetable or chicken stock. A good quality cube is fine

– a small red onion – 50g dry weight of pasta

– pinch of sugar

– 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar

– olive oil

– one or two parmesan rinds

Before cooking starts, let’s make it clear that you can of course use dried Cannellini beans, (which you’ve pre-soaked) and fresh tomatoes, (which you’ve skinned and seeded). Personally, for the sake of speed and convenience, I’d rather use good quality tinned beans and tomatoes. And if you’ve used tinned Italian tomatoes, the taste will be delicious. Your call basically.

Tuscan Bean Soup - a wonderful winter warmer !Here’s what you do: Warm a tablespoon or two of oil in a large saucepan. To this add the chopped red onion; the peeled and chopped garlic; and as much chopped chilli pepper to suit your taste. Cook gently over a medium heat until the onion’s softened, but don’t allow this, or the garlic, to go brown.

Drain and rinse the tinned Cannellini beans and add these. Let them to warm through for a few minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes; the stock; a pinch of sugar; and the red wine vinegar. At this point, you can – if you like – blitz the soup for a few seconds with a hand blender to give a slightly thicker texture. Your choice.

Reduce the heat to its lowest setting and gently simmer the soup for 20 minutes. Don’t add salt yet as it can toughen the Cannellini beans. If you have them, now add one or two old rinds of Parmesan cheese. Save these in a plastic bag in the freezer when you’ve grated-off all the usable cheese. They enrichen and make a fantastic addition to most Italian soups. (And you don’t need to defrost them before using).

While the soup’s simmering away, cook the 50 grams of pasta. You can buy pasta specially-made to go into soups, but I find it it easier to simply break-up a few lengths of spaghetti or linguine into inch-long pieces. Cook these in a separate pan. If you try and cook them in the soup, you’ll end up with a stodgy, starchy result. When the pasta’s cooked, drain it, and add it to the soup.

An especially good extra ingredient – if you can get your hands on them – are proper Italian sausages. These are made from 100% meat, unlike English sausage which have a proportion of rusk added. My Italian favorites are sausages from Puglia, which are small – about 2 inches – and have fennel seeds added to the meat, which gives a gorgeous sweet, slightly aniseed taste to the sausage. Just brown the sausages in a frying pan and then add them to the soup for the last 10 minutes or so of cooking time. Again, this will enrich the final result and add another delicious layer of flavour.

When the soup’s ready, add salt/pepper to your taste; remove and discard the Parmesan cheese rinds. Ladle the soup into bowls, add a sausage or two if you’re using them, and drizzle a little of your very best olive oil over the soup.

As an alternative to sausage – and to make this soup even heartier – just before serving, toast a slice of country bread. Rub this with garlic; drizzle it with oil; put a slice in each person’s bowl and ladle the soup over. Some grated Parmesan; good bread and red wine are the only other accompaniments you’ll need. This recipe will serve two people as a main meal – or four as a starter.

Enjoy !