Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cannellini on the Set

I've been making my living in video production for nearly 30 years. Most of the time I work on small projects with a crew of one to five. We usually only shoot for a few days in a couple of locations, then edit for a week or so, which means that projects come and go pretty quickly.

Once, during the late 90s I was part of a large crew shooting the live-action sequences for two video games, Black Dahlia and Jet Fighter: Full Burn. My role was organizational rather than creative, but it was interesting to work on one project for months on end in the same location with a big cast and crew. Even more interesting was that since these were video games and the locations and backgrounds were created by the animators, all of the people scenes were shot in front of a plain colored background and then composited into the scenes by a process called chroma key.

One thing about the movie business is that you eat well. Too well sometimes. There's food everywhere all the time and much of it not very healthy. Luckily on this job we had a terrific caterer who prepared a hearty hot lunch every day for anywhere from 20 to 80 people, depending on how many actors and extras were on set on the day. I was the only vegetarian yet Cindy always had several dishes that I could eat and I never went hungry.

The first few months of this marathon were in the darkest, coldest winter and nearly every day there was hot soup on the lunch buffet to start the meal. Surprisingly, many of these soups were vegetarian and the one that most knocked my socks off was Tuscan White Bean and Escarole. I begged for the recipe but Cindy just smiled and changed the subject. That sent me on a mission to replicate the soup, and after many tries I finally succeeded. It's one of our family's favorites and perfect for chilly nights. It's probably worth doubling the recipe to have some in the freezer for when you come home cold and tired to your own hungry cast and crew.

PS: If you ever play the game Black Dahlia and get to the very end, I am Severed Head #2. It's my only on-screen credit ever, and I'm pretty proud of it. :) 

Tuscan White Bean and Escarole Soup

1 cup cannellini or other white beans, soaked overnight
1 small onion
1 bay leaf

Cook the soaked beans with the onion and bay leaf in water to cover until barely tender. Drain.

1 stalk of celery
1 carrot
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary

Mince together until very fine, then saute in a little olive oil until golden and aromatic. Add the drained beans and 1 quart of vegetable broth. Simmer for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.

Chop one small head of escarole and swirl in fresh water until clean. Drain and add to soup. Simmer another 15 minutes or so, then taste and correct seasoning. I add a little cayenne for punch, a splash of cider vinegar for sparkle and a lot of freshly ground black pepper for bass notes.

For some reason, every time I make this soup the flavor is a little thin at first, maybe because the water in the escarole dilutes the broth. I have a couple of secret fixes for that. Either one of these will pump up the flavor. Add just a little at a time; too much and your soup ends up too salty.

I usually make this in the fall, but we've had such unseasonably cold weather here lately that when I saw the escarole in the market I snatched it up and put the beans on to soak. We've got a fire in the fireplace, biscuits in the oven and this soup simmering on the stove. What a great way to warm up a cool April Monday!

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