After getting back from California we wanted to catch our breath with a simple dish that wouldn’t require a lot of effort. If it went with the the crazy New England weather this week, warm or cold, all the better. Herewith Flageolet Soup with Crème Fraiche, Tarragon and Mustard.
Flageolets (fla-as in flag-zhay-oh-lay) are a small, delicate bean, usually (but not always, as you can see in the photos) an alluring pale green. If you examine them closely they’re covered with faint green stripes. They’re removed from the pod before reaching full maturity, which contributes to their delicate flavor. My first encounter with them was an impulse purchase – how could I not buy a package of beans the color of young grasshoppers? All I did was prepare them with a bit of carrot and onion and olive oil. I wasn’t disappointed.
The French love them with cream, baked in gratins, and in various preparations with tomatoes. They’re considered a traditional accompaniment to leg of lamb. But in a more humble kitchen they make a fine soup as well.
When I began marshaling my facts for this intro I wondered if there might not be a remarkable connection between the flageolet bean and the French woodwind, also called a flageolet. Perhaps the bean and the flute hailed from the same tiny hamlet, an alpine village peopled with artisan farmers who passed their long dark winters fashioning musical instruments.
Alas, there IS a complicated etymological connection between the bean and the flute, whose twists I won’t explore here, except to note that both items share a Latin heritage in a word meaning “to blow.” The connection involves several morphings, but if you know the children’s ditty that begins, Beans, beans, the delicious fruit… you’ll know where it all ends up.
So much for romance. Happy Spring. Ken
Flageolet Soup with Crème Fraiche, Tarragon and Mustard
Makes 4 1-cup servings
- 8 oz. dried flageolet beans (or great northern white beans if you can’t get flageolets)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 ounces diced smoked bacon
- 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch dice
- 1 celery stalk, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch dice (Save the leaves for use in the chiffonade below.)
- 1 small onion, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch dice
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 cups chicken stock
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped tomatoes
- ½ cup crème fraiche
- 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
- 1-2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon, depending on your taste
- 1 tablespoon celery leaf chiffonade (leaves cut into very thin strips)
- Spread the flageolets out in single layer on a large tray and pick out any debris–stones, dirt, bad beans, etc.
- Rinse beans, put in bowl, cover with one inch of water and soak overnight.
- Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook 2 minutes. Add the carrot, celery and onion, reduce the heat to low and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.
- Drain and rinse the beans and add them to the pot, along with the bay leaves, the chicken stock and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently until the beans are almost tender, about an 1 hour. You may have to add a little water now and then to keep it at a consistent level. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and cook 30 minutes more. Take care with the salt. If you are using salted bacon, you may not need any more salt.
- Mix the crème fraiche with the mustard and tarragon and season with salt and pepper.
- Serve the soup in warm bowls with a dollop of the crème fraiche mixture topped with celery leaves.
Before and after soaking.
I first started using flageolet beans one spring in the early 1980’s. I was working at a gourmet food store inspired by Dean and Deluca and many of our products had D&D labels. The flageolet were flawless. Like Good & Plenty candy colored pastel green. Very French.
I got all excited about making this soup, adding a French angle (crème fraiche, tarragon and mustard) and celebrating the arrival of spring. Then I hit a snag–we had a hard time finding flageolets, and when we did finally track some down the beans were uneven in size and color. I was disappointed and concerned that we would have to report that they didn’t work. Fortunately they did cook fairly evenly, and the soup was delicious. Just not as pretty as I had hoped. If you want a creamier texture, use an immersion blender to puree part or all of the soup.