There is no part of Italian cooking more diverse than its variety of bean soups. This traditional minestrone from Tuscany is fresh and flavorful, and it is even better the day after you prepare it. In the summer, this soup is delicious when served at room temperature with a little drizzle of extravirgin olive oil on top in place of the cheese-topped crouton.
Sort and wash beans; place in a large bowl. Cover with water to 2 inches above beans; cover and let stand 8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse beans.
Combine beans and 8 cups water in a large Dutch oven; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender.
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, parsley, and garlic to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Add cooked beans, 5 cups water, and next 7 ingredients (through pepper). Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 35 minutes. Add chard; simmer 5 minutes or until chard is tender.
Place bread slices on a baking sheet; top each with 1 tablespoon cheese. Broil 2 minutes or until cheese melts and bread is lightly toasted. Ladle soup into individual bowls; top with cheese croutons.
It's unusually cold here this week in North Florida and I have been enjoying the wonderful flavors of this very warm, flavorful soup! I will make this again this winter, and, I'm sure, for many winters to come! It fits very well into my new "diabetic" diet, although I am just the opposite --- hypoglycemic.
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