Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced, fronds reserved
2 medium carrots, sliced on the diagonal
2 medium ribs celery, including leaves, sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups homemade or store-bought chicken broth (plus extra, if needed)
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked chicken, cut/torn into small bite-sized pieces (see Kitchen Notes)
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup uncooked ditalini (see Kitchen Notes)
zest of 1 lemon, plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1. In a large, heavy Dutch oven or soup pot, heat oil and butter over medium flame, swirling to combine. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Add fennel, carrots and celery to pot. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and stir to coat with oil and butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Be careful not to burn — you want to sweat the vegetables, not brown them. Reduce heat, if necessary. Clear a spot in the middle of the pot and add garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 45 seconds.
2. Add broth to pot, along with cannellini beans, chicken and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about 10 minutes. Stir in ditalini and cook until ditalini is just al dente, 10 to 11 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Meanwhile, chop 2 tablespoons of fennel fronds. Stir fronds, lemon zest and lemon juice into soup. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt. Serve with a crusty bread.
Cooked chicken or not? As I said above, the roasted chicken adds to the umami for me. If you don’t have any on hand, use boneless skinless chicken thighs — they’ll add more flavor than chicken breasts.
Pick your pasta. I love ditalini for soups, especially if I’m adding beans, Its size and shape matches the beans, and it’s spoon-friendly. Egg noodles are another popular choice for this kind of soup.
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