Cannellini bean soup

Cannellini bean soup

Zuppa lombarda

Emiko Davies; Lauren Bamford

The name of this dish, which translates to ‘Lombard soup’, is a little misleading. It’s neither from Lombardy, nor really a ‘soup’ – though technically it is still a zuppa. Supposedly, it was the dish fed to the workers who were brought into the Maremma from northern Italy to dredge and fill the malaria-ridden wetlands towards the end of the 1700s. In fact, this recipe should really be called zuppa per i lombardi (‘soup for the Lombards’).

This typical Maremman peasant dish is made of locally grown cannellini beans cooked slowly in water with onion, garlic and herbs. Once cooked, the beans, along with some of their delicious liquid, are scooped over a slice of grilled or perhaps stale Tuscan bread. Like the most efficient sponge, Tuscan bread soaks up everything. It is one of my favourite dishes.

Good beans are essential for this recipe, and I would recommend using dried cannellini beans – the liquid produced from cooking the dried beans from scratch is what makes this so special. Another important tip is not to add any salt to the cooking beans until right at the end – the salt keeps the beans stubbornly tough and you will need to cook them for much longer.


Quantity Ingredient
300g dried cannellini beans
1 onion, finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, whole, plus 1 for serving, (optional)
4 sage sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 slices tuscan bread, grilled, (or other crusty white loaf), (broiled)


  1. Rinse the beans and put them in a large bowl of cold water (they need plenty of space). Let them soak for 12 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain the beans, then put them in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan (or flameproof terracotta pot if you have one) with the onion, garlic, herbs and olive oil. If you don’t like rosemary sprigs floating through your beans, simply tie the sprigs of rosemary together.
  3. Pour over about 1.5 litres of water to cover. Place on the lowest, gentlest heat you have and bring to a simmer (a rolling boil can damage the beans), then cover and cook for 1½–2 hours (some beans may need even longer), or until the beans are tender but not falling apart. Check occasionally to make sure there is still plenty of liquid and scoop off any scum from the surface. Top up with water if needed. Right towards the end, add the salt, and once the beans are tender, remove from the heat.
  4. Serve a scoop of warm (not hot) beans over grilled slices of bread. If you like, you can also rub these with a clove of raw garlic. Drizzle over some extra-virgin olive oil and add pepper to taste.


  • The general rule with cooking dried beans is that you’ll get triple the amount you started with. You can halve this recipe easily and it would be just enough for 4 light servings (suitable if you’ve got a main to follow or other dishes on the table), but I like having some leftovers as it is such a versatile preparation. These beans make a classic side dish (just drain and drizzle with good extra-virgin olive oil), stir through soups, or blend them and spread on top of crostini.
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