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Italian White Bean Soup with Broccoli and Prosciutto Ham

This hearty Tuscan soup is a superb blend of textures and flavors and colors--and is incredibly rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Serve hot as a meal to 4, with lots of crusty bread.

Garnish: freshly grated Parmesan cheese

If you are using dried beans, soak them for at least 6 hours.

To start the soup, saute onions, leeks, celery, and garlic in the butter and oil on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Pour in the water and the drained beans, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and plunge in the bouquet garni of herbs. Simmer for 2 hours (less if you are using drained, canned beans).

When beans are completely tender, remove the bouquet garni, and season to taste. You can leave at a low simmer at this point.

When ready to serve, stir in the prosciutto ham and the broccoli. You don't want to do this earlier, because the broccoli will turn color. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the broccoli is just tender. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and grind a little more fresh pepper into the soup. Ladle into bowls and garnish with generous handfuls of fresh grated Parmesan cheese.