Creamy doesn’t always need to equate to cream, and this totally dairy-free soup is proof. Undrained canned white beans are blended with slow-cooked aromatics and vegetable broth to result in a luscious vegan soup that’s anything but boring. While I typically like to drain and rinse canned beans, wary of any tinned flavor the liquid imparts, here that liquid lends starchy richness to the soup and the fear of off flavors dissipates with a 30 minute simmer. What makes this soup extra special is the vibrant herb garnish, called gremolata, that’s sprinkled on top right before serving. This is the perfect soup for weeknights and special occasions alike.
What Is Gremolata?
Gremolata is an Italian condiment of chopped fresh parsley, garlic, and lemon zest. It hails from the northern region of Lombardy, where it is traditionally used as a garnish for osso buco, a Milanese dish of braised veal shank. The fresh, herbaceous condiment lends welcomed brightness and contrast to the rich dish.
Here, gremolata provides the same vibrancy. This version of the condiment is a riff on the classic, however. In addition to parsley, garlic, and lemon zest, it features crumbled fried sage leaves, which lends an earthy, warming flavor profile that’s particularly fitting in these colder months.
Swaps and Substitutions
Any white beans can be used to make this soup. I love meaty cannellini beans, but Great Northern or navy beans also work well. If you prefer to use beans you’ve cooked from scratch rather than canned beans, swap in 4 1/2 cups of cooked white beans with their cooking liquid. And if you don’t need to keep this soup vegan, low-sodium chicken broth can be used instead of the vegetable broth.
You can also riff on the gremolata. Try using orange zest instead of lemon zest or swap the sage leaves for fresh rosemary needles that you’ve stripped from their stem. Just use the needles from about 5 medium sprigs, fry them in olive oil as you would the sage leaves, and coarsely chop them.
What to Serve With This Soup
You can easily turn this soup into a wholesome dinner with a side of crusty bread for dunking and salad or vegetable on the side. A few great side dish recipes to pair with white bean soup are:
- Green Salad with Fresh Herbs and Red Wine Vinaigrette
- Harvest Salad with Miso-Maple Roasted Butternut Squash
- Beet Citrus Salad with Kale and Pistachios
- Roasted Butternut Squash, Radicchio, and Onion
- Swiss Chard with Olives
Cook the onion, garlic, and pepper flakes:
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes, if using, and sauté until the onion is translucent, very soft, and pale golden, about 7-9 minutes.
Simmer the soup:
Add the broth and all of the beans, season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and stir to combine. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Uncover, reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, to allow the flavors to meld and the broth to reduce slightly.
Meanwhile, make the gremolata:
Line a plate with paper towels. Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until a sample sage leaf sizzles immediately after its place in the oil, about 2 minutes. Add half of the sage leaves and cook, stirring once or twice, until crisp and the edges curl and turn golden-brown, 45 seconds to 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the fried leaves to the paper towel-lined plate and repeat with the remaining leaves. Remove the saucepan from the heat and reserve the sage-frying oil. Let the fried sage leave cool for a few minutes until cool enough to handle.
Place the parsley, garlic, and lemon zest in a small bowl. Crumble the fried sage leaves into the bowl. Season with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and use a fork to combine.
Blend and season the soup:
Once the soup has simmered, remove from the heat. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup directly in the pot until smooth, adding additional broth as needed to achieve the consistency you like. (Alternatively, blend it in batches in a regular blender.) Taste and season with additional kosher salt and pepper as needed.
Divide the soup into bowls. Garnish with gremolata and a generous drizzle of the reserved sage-frying oil.
Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Store any leftover gremolata and sage-frying oil in separate containers in the fridge, too, and let them come to room temperature on the counter while you rewarm the soup.
You can also freeze this white bean soup, without the gremolata, in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Defrost it in the refrigerator overnight and make the gremolata before you reheat the soup or as it’s gently simmering on the stove.
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