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1/2 cup dry borlotti beans or 1 can pink beans or kidney beans (preferred brand Goya)
1/2 cup dry cannellini or small white beans or 1 14-ounce can cannellini beans
1 bay leaf
2 onions, peeled and 1 halved and 1 chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 meaty chunk (1/3 pound) pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 ribs celery heart with leafy tops, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 fat cloves garlic, crushed, sliced or chopped
2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and cut 1/2-inch dice
1 pound zucchini or other seasonal vegetable, diced or cut into like-size shape and pieces
1 head escarole, coarsely chopped or Tuscan kale, stemmed and chopped
A handful dried porcini mushrooms, coarsely chopped or torn
2 quarts beef or chicken stock, divided
Herb bundle (a few sprigs each) of thyme, sage, rosemary
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes or 3 tomatoes (if they’re in season), peeled and diced
1 chunk Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
1 cup grated Parm, for topping
EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil, for finishing and serving
Crusty bread, for mopping
Cover the dry beans with water and soak them overnight. Or, cover them with boiling water and soak for 1 hour then rinse and drain. (For even quicker cooking, substitute canned beans and just add them to the soup along with tomatoes and stock.) Place soaked beans in a 6- to 8-quart pot and cover them with 3 inches of water. Add bay and halved onion, and bring to full boil. Salt water liberally and cook beans to tender, about 45 minutes. Let cool in their liquid, which will be about 2 cups once cooked.
Heat a large Dutch oven or 8-quart soup pot over medium heat, add olive oil, 2 turns of the pan, and pancetta. Render 3-5 minutes then add chopped onion, carrots, celery and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Sweat veggies 15 minutes, stirring occasionally then add potatoes and zucchini or other vegetable of choice, and season with salt. Partially cover and soften 15-20 minutes more. Wilt in escarole or kale. In a small saucepan, add porcini mushrooms and stock just to cover, about 2 cups. Simmer until the porcinis are softened, about 15 minutes. Add herbs, tomatoes, remaining stock and cheese rind, and simmer a minimum of 1 hour and ideally 2 hours. Add porcini and stock, leaving any grit behind, along with the beans and their liquid. Cool 5 minutes and remove herb bundle, bay leaf and rind. Serve in shallow bowls topped with a fat drizzle of good EVOO and some grated cheese. Pass crusty bread at the table for mopping.