White bean soup with caramelized apples & onions: $1.23/serving

This unphotogenic but fabulous soup was originally inspired by a white bean and apple soup in Lidia Bastianich’s “Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy.” I loved the idea of apples and beans together, but as for the recipe itself…I love you, Lidia, but really? Whole white beans and apple slices simmered in WATER, with only lemon zest and cinnamon for support? I’ve made enough soups in my lifetime to know that’s not going to end well.

To inject some much-needed flavor, I cooked the white beans in proper soup stock with a little bay and rosemary (I used turkey because it was on hand and free, but chicken or even vegetable is fine) and pureed them, then folded some caramelized apples and onions in at the end and topped with a sprinkling of bacon.

If I did this again I’d probably add a little chunk of bread in with the simmering beans as a thickener, because the contrast between the creamy, savory soup and the firm yet sweet apples was what really made this. I admit I had two bowls, which I almost never do.

This makes about 4 good-sized servings.

• 2 lbs. golden delicious apples, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (feel free to peel them if you’d like, but I didn’t, and they were fine): $2.28
• Two large onions, roughly chopped: 5o cents
• 4 oz. bacon, sliced crosswise into thin strips: 69 cents
• 3 T unsalted butter: 18 cents
• 6 cups good-flavored soup stock (again, I used turkey, but chicken or vegetable would be great): $0
• 2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (garden): $0
• 1 bay leaf: 1 cent 
• 1/2 pound dry white navy or cannellini beans, soaked overnight*: 54 cents 
• Zest of one lemon: 69 cents
• Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste (white if you don’t want black flecks in your nice white soup, black if you don’t care): 2 cents
• RECOMMENDED: A chunk of stale country bread to simmer with the beans and be pureed as a thickener: $0
TOTAL: $4.91/4 = $1.23/serving 

*And by overnight I really do mean from the time you go to bed from the time you make dinner the next day; when I first started cooking I’d puzzle over this, wondering if I had to start cooking in the morning, or if nearly 24 hours of soaking was really OK. I’m here to tell you: It’s really OK.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat until crisp. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate, leaving the fat in the pan. Melt the butter in the pan, and when foaming has subsided, add the apples and onions and a pinch of salt.

Stir well to coat; cook over medium-low heat for about 40 minutes, or until onions have caramelized and the apples are soft and noticeably darker in color.

Simmer the beans, stock, rosemary and bay leaf (and bread, if using) until beans are cooked, about 40 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf and puree the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the apples and caramelized onions and the lemon zest; serve in bowls, topped with some of the bacon as garnish.

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