When I’m feeling uninspired and am looking for something new to try I like to browse Epicurious. The recipes on Epicurious tend to be more on the intermediate-advanced side. It’s rare to find a recipe that uses something pre-prepared; basically, everything comes from scratch, and the recipe authors (as well as the people cooking these recipes) see the value in that.
It was quite a while back that on one day where I was lacking inspiration I came across a recipe for white bean ragout. Before this recipe, I’d heard the word “ragout” before but was uncertain of what that meant. There was another word in the recipe that was entirely foreign to me: soffritto. My interest was piqued by the nice photo and the positive reviews from the commenters, so naturally, I investigated.
Soffritto is a word for a substance used as a base in many dishes. It is common in Italian and Spanish cooking, and seems to be generally composed of a mash of vegetables + olive oil cooked in a pan until the flavors all meld together. The stuff is then used as the base for things like pasta, soups, as marinades, whatever. It’s not quite a sauce, not a liquid. It’s more a mush of deliciousness, and you can customize it to whatever flavors you want to throw in. Cool, yeah?
So, ragout, then. What’s that? The internet told me that ragout comes from French cooking, and refers to a stew that is cooked over low heat for a long, long time. Ingredients (which typically include some kind of main meat or vegetable) are often cooked in a pan before a liquid is added to it and the mixture is stewed. Other stuff can be added according to personal preference (and whether you want things to meld into the liquid or not).
This dish, a white bean ragout, is a vegetarian ragout that is rich in body (thanks, olive oil!), mild in flavor, and very satisfying. You also wind up with lots of delicious leftover soffritto to experiment with! I’ve made this dish many, many times and feel that the key to making it extra delicious is to really invest time in nailing the soffritto. Once you’ve given that a bit of time to meld together (this is usually about 30-40 minutes for me), put all but about 1 cup into a separate container, reserve the pan, and use that as the base for cooking your ragout.
The original recipe calls for white beans (cannellini). One of the things that I have found with this recipe, however, is that if you use the amount called for (and the amount of broth called for), the dish tends to get a bit mushy. I therefore add only about a cup of broth and let that simmer, stirring as little as possible so as not to smush the beans to excess.
The recipe calls garlic-rubbed toast, which is a bit fussy, but that crunch that goes with the soft ragout is really nice. Adding some fresh cherry tomatoes for bright flavor and topping with a bit of parsley and parmesan makes this a winner for me every time. All in all, this one takes around an hour and a half to come together, but you end up with something fairly healthy, a batch of base to use in other recipes throughout the week, and the satisfaction of making something lovely. Here’s the recipe (white bean ragout with toast). Have fun!