1-1/4 cups dried white beans
1 medium onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbs olive oil
8 to 10 cups salted water or broth*
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained
2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp. black pepper
8 oz small pasta shells or elbows (scant 2 cups)
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1. Cook the dried white beans in 8 cups water. (May be done a day in advance.)
Note: White beans cook in about 1-1/2 hours after soaking (all day or overnight) or quick soaking (boiled 1 minute and then left to sit 1 hour). Unsoaked, they take closer to 2 hours. I once used canned white beans in this recipe, but it wasn't nearly so good.
2. In your soup pot, saute the onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat just until the vegetables begin to get tender.
3. Add the water or broth, tomatoes, oregano, pepper, and the cooked beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer about 1/2 hour.
4. Add pasta and zucchini. Continue to simmer about 10-15 minutes more until pasta is done and zucchini is tender. Add more water if thinner soup is desired.
5. Serve with a spoonful of pesto swirled into each bowl at the table. (Pesto loses its flavor if cooked into the soup. If pesto is unavailable, make a paste of raw garlic, olive oil and dried basil and stir a little into the soup at the table. It's not the same, but it's good!) If you eat cheese, you may sprinkle a little grated Parmesan onto each portion also.
*How much salt depends on the broth and your personal taste. I usually use water with a few teaspoons vegetable broth powder and 1/2 tsp. salt. If you use canned broth, use only one or two cans and the rest water or the broth flavor will be overpowering. The sauteed vegetables help to enrich the broth as the soup cooks.