Cold Comfort

by Sam Bilton on October 26, 2012 1 comment


There is something quite melancholic about this time of year.  Whilst I love gradual evolution of foliage from green to the mosaic of browns, reds and yellows, my small veg garden is waning.  Clumps of bare brown earth have been revealed in the areas where once beans, potatoes, carrots and onions grew and only the brassica section looking verdant with a few beetroot in support.  It’s sad to see the plants that you nurtured from tiny seeds into strapping plants wither and die.  However, many do leave a delicious legacy and this is one of the things that makes growing your own vegetables so rewarding.

podded beans

Every year I try to grow something different (not always successfully) whether it be a completely new vegetable or perhaps just a different cultivar.  Last year a friend kindly gave me a selection of “quirky” seeds including red pear tomatoes, crystal apple lemon cucumbers and lazy housewife beans (available from hen and hammock) which I duly planted and waited patiently for the results.  As much as I love French beans I am not a big fan of runner beans so I was a little disappointed to see that the lazy housewife bean resembled just that.  I decided to leave them on the vine and to harvest the beans inside the pod at the end of the season.

Bouquet garni

The pods slowly turned from green to yellow.  I picked them then continued the drying process in the airing cupboard.  A week later the pods were brittle and gave a pleasing crackle when snapped open to reveal small, round whitish beans which were pleasingly plump even in their desiccated state.  In France these are known as Coco Blanc and are classically used in cassoulet.  As the chilly air from the North Pole travels south I find myself hankering after a warming bowl of soup which is how this recipe came about.

White Bean Soup with Truffle Oil and Porcini Sablés

Serves 4


Once prepared this soup requires little attention prior to serving.  Truffle oil adds a touch of luxury to this simple but tasty soup and is available in many supermarkets. It is not essential and could be replaced with a flavoured oil such as walnut. Begin the preparation at least 24 hours before you wish to eat the soup.

Ingredients for the soup

  • 225g dried white beans e.g. coco blanc, cannellini or haricot
  • 2 tablespoons rapeseed or olive oil
  • 1 leek, washed and finely sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed with ½ tsp coarse sea salt
  • 1 fresh bouquet garni including rosemary, thyme, bay leaf and parsley (if fresh herbs are not available substitute with a dried bouquet garni)
  • 1.2 litres light chicken or vegetable stock
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • 4tsp truffle oil or walnut oil


  1. Soak the beans overnight in at least twice their volume of water.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 120ºC.  Drain the beans while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Heat the oil in a large oven proof casserole over a medium heat.  Reduce the heat slightly and gently sweat the leak and celery.  Meanwhile, crush the garlic with the sea salt using the blade of your knife or a pestle and mortar.  After the leek and celery have been cooking for five minutes add the crushed garlic to the pan and cook for a further minute stirring regularly to prevent the vegetables from browning.
  4. Add the beans, stock and bouquet garni and bring to the boil.  Carefully skim any scum from the surface of the soup.  Cover the casserole and place in the oven for two hours or until the beans are tender (this will depend on the size and age of the beans – older beans will take longer to cook).
  5. When the beans are cooked remove the bouquet garni (don’t worry if a few leaves have escaped your bundle.  They will disappear when the soup is blended).  Blend the soup in batches then pass through a sieve or chinois.  This is not essential but does greatly enhance the consistency.  The result should be a velvety concoction which glides down your throat. Season with salt and white pepper then add the lemon juice.  Reheat gently and serve with 1tsp of truffle oil drizzled over each bowl of soup and the porcini sablés on the side.

Ingredients for the porcini sablés

Makes 15 – 16

porcini sables

  • 15g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 40g white bread flour, sifted
  • 40g unsalted butter, diced
  • 20g parmesan, finely grated
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1-2 tsp milk


  1. Whiz the dried mushrooms in a spice/coffee grinder or small food processor until you have a fine powder.  Place in a bowl with the flour and parmesan cheese.  Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Add a little milk to bring the mixture together into a firm dough. How much depends on so many things e.g. how warm your hands are.  You do not want the dough to be sticky (if it is add a little more flour).  Roll into a sausage shape which is about 15 cm long, then wrap in cling film and place in the freezer for 30 – 60 minutes to firm up.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180 ºC.  Remove the porcini sausage from the freezer and slice into discs approximately 5mm wide (you don’t have to be precise here!).  Place on a baking tray lined with a reusable silicone liner or lightly greased with butter.  You should get around 15 – 16 discs.  Don’t worry if the mixture is crumbly and break up as you slice the discs.  Just gently reshape into rounds on the baking sheet.  They will hold their shape when cooked.  Bake for 10 – 12 minute.  They should be a little darker around the edges when they come out of the oven.  Cool on a wire rack before serving.

ingredients for porcini sables

Sam BiltonCold Comfort

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  • Liz @ IHeartVegetables - November 2, 2012 reply

    Oh yum! I’ve been loving soups lately, since the weather has gotten colder! I’ve neveer made a white bean soup before. I’ll have to give it a try!

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