Over the years, the recipe has changed. I now prefer the flavor obtained by cooking dried beans rather than using canned. But, if pinched for time, you can substitute 14- ounce cans, drained and rinsed, and eliminate the cooking time for the beans.
Initially, I made my own stock but there are many good varieties in today's markets and you can use whichever you prefer. For a heartier soup, use beef stock and add slices of cooked smoked sausage or chopped ham. Use vegetable stock for a heart-healthier, lower-calorie soup.
The two best things about this soup are that you can add or substitute just about any type of bean, and that it tastes even better the second day.
1. Drain the cannellini and kidney beans. Place each in a separate medium-sized pot; cover beans with water by 2–3 inches. Bring water to a full boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for about 50 minutes, just until tender. Then, drain the beans.
2. While the beans are cooking, dice onion, carrots and celery. Slice the garlic.
3. Make an herb bundle by tying together the parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano and bay leaf.
4. Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion, carrots, celery and garlic for 4 minutes; season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. To the pot, add the diced tomatoes (including liquid), sugar, cooked cannellini and kidney beans (drained), canned chickpeas and black beans (rinsed and drained) and the stock.
6. Add the tied bundle of herbs, chili powder, salt and pepper.
7. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, until beans are completely tender but not mushy.
8. Remove the bundle of herbs before serving. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and/or toasted slices of thick Italian bread.