Zuppa de Fagioli di Colore Violaceo

In other words, Purplish Bean Soup. Don't adjust the color on your screen... this soup really has a violet hue. Not so typical for a nice rainy day bean soup, and why purple?

Purple-skinned carrots freshly harvested from our winter garden, delicious and beautiful as they are, turned the broth and everything in it a lovely but unexpected lavender shade. The description on the seed package may have been a bit of an understatement, as about 3/8" of the flesh beyond the skin was this lovely intense bright violet. A little research confirmed my guess that these colorful carrots pack a phytochemical punch (those pigment-based bioactive compounds that are known to protect against disease) much greater then the usual orange-alone variety.

My Vivid Mirepoix

This recipe was adapted from David Tanis' Zuppa de Fagioli in his lovely cookbook, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes. Mr. Tanis' minimal approach is entirely enticing, and his book is beautiful. He may not necessarily nod to the violet quality of this knock-off version of his soup, but I believe he'd heartily approve of some other of my additions and changes.

Enormous butter beans, for instance, replaced his smaller white beans. I added some chard, thyme and rosemary from the garden and used about twice as much garlic as originally called for.

Inspired by our freezer full of local lamb, a browned a lamb shank was dropped into the soup pot, replacing Mr. Tanis' smoked ham hocks. In the end, the marrow was scooped from the bone and whisked into the broth, adding a silky texture and additional flavor. The small amount of meat made the soup a bit heartier for a chilly autumn afternoon in the northwest, but still let the vegetables and beans take the lead.

The rousing licorice-y aroma of the fennel crushing in the mortar had me humming La Donna e Mobile under my breath. With garlic bread and a nice bottle of Dolcetto, once again we could have been in the Italian countryside.

Zuppa deFagioli

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 5 celery stalks and leaves, finely diced
  • 3 chubby carrots, finely diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 4 cups roughly chopped chard, stems removed, leaves reserved
  • 1 large bunch fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 4 cups (2 pounds) dried white beans, picked over, rinsed and soaked overnight
  • 1 medium lamb shank, well browned
  • 6 cups high-quality chicken stock
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, finely crushed in a mortar or spice mill
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper
To finish:
  • High quality, flavorful olive oil
  • Finely chopped rosemary leaves
Warm the 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the diced onions, celery and carrots and cook gently until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaves and chopped chard stems and cook for a minute more.

Add the white beans, browned lamb shank and thyme and rosemary sprigs. Cover with the stock and water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low. Simmer gently for an hour, stirring occasionally.

Add the ground fennel, red pepper flakes, and a good spoonful of salt. Continue cooking for 1 hour more, or until the beans are quite tender and the lamb shank has begun to fall apart.

During the last 10 minutes of cooking, stir in the roughly chopped chard leaves.

Serve in large soup bowls. Drizzle flavorful finishing olive oil on top and sprinkle with chopped rosemary. Viola!


  1. WOW those carrots look amazing!! And this soups sounds so delicious, perfect for fall. :) How do you like 'A Platter of Figs..?' That book has been hovering on the edge of my wish list for awhile now, and I cant make up my mind.

  2. This looks AMAZING! It sounds awesome for a rainy autumn/winter day. Unfortunately, we don't get those in Southern California, haha.

  3. I would walk many miles to find those carrots.In MN, on a snowed-in day (today), this would soothe the hungry beast.

  4. What a beautiful soup, looks tasty and filling. I love the photo of the carrots, so cute.

  5. I've never had purple carrots, but have heard of them. Seeing them here is a treat. I'm not much of a soup fan but I have been trying to branch out a bit. I think I see this during my upcoming winter needs for warming foods!


  6. those carrots make me soooo happy! What is it with your carrots? They are so cool. they are either bitty baby cuties or wearing techincolor dream coats. Just brilliant! this soup makes me want to eat beans.

  7. This soup looks delicious and the purple hue makes it look beautiful too! Thanks for sharing :-)

  8. These pictures are so amazing! The carrot pic is really cool :)
    The soup looks really flavorful and comforting. I could use this recipe for a cold night dinner :)

  9. purple carrots? Wow. Do they taste any different? Am I that much of a loser in the veggie world that I've never seen purple carrots before?

  10. Those have to be the coolest carrots I've ever seen. It's actually cold here in North Carolina and that soup looks like the perfect thing for a night like this. I want it! Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  11. I want those carrots. I've had purple sweet potatoes, purple cauliflower, but never carrots. I think the original color of carrots was purple and was eventually grown to orange to be more attractive.


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