CHARD AND WHITE BEAN SOUP - TUSCAN STYLE
1 lb dried white beans, picked over and rinsed
1/4 lb sliced pancetta, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded and bulb chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 cups chicken stock or broth
4 cups water
1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
1 small bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 lb Swiss chard leaves halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
1 teaspoon salt
Soak beans in cold water to cover by 2 inches at room temperature for at least 8 hours (quick-soak), then drain in a colander.
Cook pancetta in oil in a wide 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderate heat until browned, transfer pancetta to paper towels to drain.
Cook onion and fennel in oil remaining in pot over moderate heat (stir often) until softened, add garlic and stir cook 1 minute. Add beans, stock, water, cheese rind, bay leaf, and pepper and simmer, uncovered, until beans are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Discard cheese rind and bay leaf. Stir in Swiss chard and salt and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until chard is tender. Season soup with salt and pepper.
Soup is best when made 1 day ahead to develop flavors (cool completely, uncovered, then cover and chill. Reheat and thin with water (if needed).
Makes 4 to 6 main-course servings.