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.
With a nod, 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. It was creamy, full of vegetables and beans, with a hint of smoky flavor; the perfect thing to combat a chilly evening.
Here’s my version.
- 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
- ¼ of a medium-large red bell pepper, finely diced
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh minced thyme leaves
- 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 small tomato, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ 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 the heat down to medium, stir in the garlic and thyme, and cook 2 minutes; 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 the 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.