8 full-meal servings
- 1 cup dried cannellini, kidney or Great Northern beans, or chickpeas
- 1 piece (about 1 ½ pounds) smoked pork shoulder butt
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 ½ cup)
- Salt, preferably sea salt
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
- 1 cup peeled and chopped (1/4-inch) carrots
- ½ cup peeled and chopped (1/4-inch) celery, with leaves
- One 14-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 large Idaho potato, peeled and diced ½ -inch (about 1 ½ cups)
- 5 quarts hot water
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 cups shredded green cabbage
- 2 small ‘fancy’ zucchini, trimmed and diced 1/2-inch (about 1 ½ cups)
- 3/4 cup ditalini or other small pasta shape, such as tubettini
- For the basil dressing:
- ½ cup (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup grated Grana Padano cheese
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or as needed
Place the beans in a large saucepan of cold water. Bring to a boil, add the smoked pork if using, cover the pot and remove it from the heat. Let stand one hour.
In a large (8 to 10-quart) heavy pot, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, season them lightly with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes. With your hands, remove the seeds from the tomatoes and crush the tomatoes coarsely. Add the crushed tomatoes and their liquid, the red pepper and bay leaves to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes, carrots and celery, bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt. Stir in the cabbage, adjust the heat to simmering and cook 5 minutes.
Pour the hot water into the pot and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to a gentle boil and cook 20 minutes. Drain the beans and pork and add them to the pot, tucking the pork into the vegetables so it is completely submerged. Bring the soup to a rolling boil, adjust the heat to simmering and cook, covered, until the beans are tender, about 1 ½ hours.
Add zucchini and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. (The soup can be prepared to this point up to 2 days in advance. Cool to room temperature, then chill completely. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, before continuing.)
Remove the pork from the soup and let stand on a cutting board. Stir the pasta into the soup and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente – tender but firm, about 8 minutes. (If you plan to set aside some of the soup to serve in the future, ladle it from the pot before you add the pasta. Add the proportionate amount of pasta to the remaining soup. Cool the reserved soup, refrigerate or freeze it, and add the pasta when you bring it back to a boil.)
While the pasta is cooking, combine the basil, grated cheese and oil in a small food processor or blender. Processes until you have a rough paste, adding a little more oil if necessary. Season to taste with salt.
Taste the soup, seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Let rest off the heat for 5 minutes. While the soup is resting, cut the pork into ½-inch slices and tent them with aluminum foil to keep them warm.
If you like, stir a dollop of the basil paste into the soup. (Otherwise, place a small dollop in each warm soup bowl before ladling in the soup, or pass the basil paste at the table, letting guests help themselves.) Lay a slice of smoked pork in the bottom of each warm soup bowl and ladle the soup over it.