Recipe for white bean soup with bacon, feta, thyme and lemon
My food blogging friend Laurie, of Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, sent me a wonderful gift package of Greek foods, in which were three of the ingredients in this soup: thyme picked on a hillside overlooking the sea; hilopites, thin noodles made by hand with fresh eggs and sheep's milk; and kalathaki, a cheese made only on the island of Limnos. Of course, if you haven't just returned from Greece with a suitcase full of these ingredients, you can make this soup with thyme from your garden, pilaf noodles or spaghetti broken into little pieces, and feta cheese. It's a hearty soup, but the lemon keeps it from being a heavy soup.
White bean soup with bacon, feta, thyme and lemon
Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as an appetizer.
3 strips of bacon
1 tsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 can cannellini (white) beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp dried thyme leaf
2 cups chicken stock, homemade or store-bought low-sodium
1/4 cup kalathaki or feta cheese
1/4 cup hilopites, pilaf noodles, or spaghetti broken into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
Zest of one lemon
In a small Dutch oven, cook the bacon over low heat, turning occasionally, until it is browned but not burned. Remove from the pot and drain on a plate covered with a paper towel. Set aside. Pour off all but 1 teaspoon of the bacon fat and discard. To the bacon fat remaining in the pot, add the olive oil.
Sauté the onion for 3-4 minutes, until it is very soft and just starting to brown. Add the beans and thyme. Stir once or twice, then add the chicken stock. Raise heat to high, and bring the soup to a boil. Then, reduce heat to simmer, partially cover the pot, and cook for 10 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, puree the soup in the pot (or remove and process in batches in a stand blender). Return the soup to the heat, and add the feta and noodles, plus 1 cup of water. Cook for 5 minutes or until your pasta is done (different pastas will take different amount of time to cook; the hilopites took just 3 minutes.) Crumble the bacon and add it to the soup.
This is not a very thick soup. If you'd like it thicker, raise the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes until the soup is the thickness you like. If you'd like it thinner, add more chicken stock, or water.
Taste the soup, then season with salt and pepper. You won't need much salt, as both the cheese and bacon are salty, but you'll want plenty of black pepper. Stir in the lemon zest, continue cooking for 1 minute, then serve.