This classic bean with bacon soup starts with dried navy beans that don't need to be pre-soaked. They soften right in the simmering soup!
I have always had a fondness for Bean with Bacon soup. I was raised on the stuff from the red and white can. Let me tell you though, while the canned version may be nostalgic, this version is so, so much better!
It was a revelation a few years ago when I learned that dried beans don't always need to be pre-soaked. Not that pre-soaking is a such a big deal, but for me, it's one of those things I have to remember to do ahead that I never remember to do ahead. You know? :)
For this soup, you just throw the dried beans right in to the soup and simmer it slowly for a couple of hours until they are tender. Just note that this method works best with beans that are relatively fresh and probably not the ones that have been in the back of your cupboard since you don't remember when. Those ones are probably too dry to use for this method.
While the recipe is written without pre-soaking the dried beans, if you'd prefer, you can soak them over-night in cold water before draining and using in the soup.
This soup can simmer away pretty much unattended. I like to peek at it every 30 minutes or so, just to make sure all is well, but honestly, everything is usually well, so even that's probably not necessary. Start testing your beans (grab one out and take a bite) at about the 90 minute mark and then every 15 minutes after that, until they are tender.
I like to thicken this soup a couple of ways. First, I use my immersion blender to break it up just a bit (a potato masher would work, as well). Then, I thicken the broth with a bit of cornstarch (or arrowroot starch, if you prefer). If you happen to have some Liquid Smoke around (we did and I have no idea why or when we bought it!), a few drops adds a great smokiness to this soup.
This soup is even better after sitting in the fridge for a few hours, so don't hesitate to make this one ahead and re-heat.
Hearty Bean with Bacon Soup
- 4 slices bacon (diced into 1/4-inch pieces)
- 1/3 cup onion (diced)
- 1 cup carrot (finely diced into about 1/4-inch dice)
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- Bay leaf
- 1 cup dried navy beans
- 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
- Optional: 1-2 drops of Liquid Smoke
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: 2 Tbsp. cornstarch (or arrowroot starch mixed with 2 Tbsp. water, to thicken)
- In a large, heavy bottom pot over medium heat, cook the bacon until almost crisp. Remove 1/2 the bacon to a bowl and discard all but 1 Tbsp. of the bacon fat from the pot. Reserve the bacon you removed in the fridge until needed.
- Add the onion and carrot to the pot and cook, stirring, until the onions are tender. Add the broth, water, dried beans and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring regularly, then immediately reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 90 minutes. After 90 minutes, start testing your beans by taking a bit of one, and continue simmering, covered, as necessary until beans are tender (testing every 15 minutes).
- Remove and discard the bay leaf. Add the tomato paste, Liquid Smoke (if using) and the reserved bacon pieces to the soup. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary (add more salt/pepper/tomato paste, to taste). Using an immersion blender or a potato masher, lightly blend or mash the soup just a bit (you want to have whole beans left). If you'd like your soup a little thicker, add the cornstarch/water mixture to soup and cook over medium heat, stirring until soup thickens.