The idea of putting bread in stew is one that dates back hundreds of years, to a medieval broth known as ‘caudle’. It is both a use-up for stale bread, or crusts cut off for fussy children, and adds both texture and thickness to a liquid broth. This soup is hearty, wholesome and delicious – made in a grey January fog for a group of hungry friends, and devoured with gusto. The ingredients are all fairly interchangeable; the beans can be any kind you fancy, even plain old baked beans will do. You can extend this with some diced chopped veg, or sweeten and substantiate the base with chopped onion and garlic, but I like it just as it is, simple and huggy. The fennel is just there for a touch of sweetness; if you don’t have any in, a teaspoon of sugar and some herbs will do the job just fine. To make this gluten free, simply replace the bread with gluten free bread of your choice. I make mine with kidney beans sometimes, but baked beans are my favourite smutty staple in soups and stews.

Bread, Bean & Fennel Stew recipe by Jack Monroe

Bread, Bean & Fennel Stew recipe by Jack Monroe

Serves 4 at 17p each for a small portion, or 2 hungry adults.

1 x approx. 400g tin of beans, 25p (25p/420g, Sainsburys Basics baked beans)

1 x 400g tin of tomatoes, 35p (35p/400g, Sainsburys Basics)

300ml vegetable stock, 3p (30p/10 stock cubes, Sainsburys Basics)

½ tsp fennel or mixed dried herbs, 1p (80p/100g, KTC or Natco brand at any major supermarket)

1 tsp lemon juice, 2p (60p/250ml, Sainsburys)

2 slices of bread, 4p (40p/22 slice loaf, Sainsburys Basics)

First drain and rinse your beans and pop them into a pan that will hold double their volume. Pour over the tinned tomatoes and the vegetable stock and add the fennel and/or herbs. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes until the beans start to soften.

Tear or cut your bread into small pieces and stir through, and cook for a further few minutes. Serve hot, and enjoy. It will keep in the fridge for 2 days, but will thicken slightly, so add a splash more water to it to serve it if heating it from cold.

Freezes beautifully, and the same rules re water apply as the bread will swell as it absorbs the water.

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