Is this it?, I asked, bewilderedly looking out the car window at what could have been any dive in any sketchy area of any town. Mike assured me that this was in fact the place. I was pretty excited though, not only because he had promised me several times that no matter what it looks like from the outside, I really would love this restaurant, but also because in my experience, restaurants that look shady on the outside often have the best food.
I like to think of them as best-kept secrets.
Mike was right – I had one of the best meals that night that I’d had in a while. The sea bass (always one of my favorites) was cooked to perfection and I even enjoyed the cannoli (which I’m not usually a big fan of). But the highlight of my meal was definitely the soup I had to start. Here’s my version.
White Bean Chowder
Serves 3 to 4
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 slices turkey bacon, minced
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 medium stalk celery, finely diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1/4 of a medium-large red bell pepper, finely diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh minced thyme leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
1 small tomato, finely diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 (15-16 oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
Heat the oil in a 3-quart pot over medium-high heat; add the turkey bacon and cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and bell pepper and cook until starting to soften, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn heat down to medium, stir in the garlic and thyme and cook 2 minutes, then stir in the flour and cook 2 minutes more.
Add the stock, tomato, tomato paste, bay leaf, oregano, salt, pepper, and beans and bring to a boil; turn heat down and simmer 15 minutes (uncovered). (Mash a few of the beans against the side of the pot if you want a thicker soup.)
Turn the heat off and stir in the cream and parsley. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as desired; serve.