I was raised in an Italian-American family, so most of the food I ate growing up was from that tradition. My mom, my aunts, and my grandmas passed their recipes down to me, and I’ve been sharing them with my friends and family ever since! Today I’m sharing my St. Joseph’s Day soup recipe, complete with crunchy, crispy olive oil croutons. Yum!

St. Joseph’s Day Soup with Crispy Homemade Olive Oil Croutons

What is St. Joseph’s Day? And what’s the significance of breadcrumbs in St. Joseph’s Day recipes?

Saint Joseph’s Day is a feast day on the Catholic calendar in honor of Saint Joseph, the husband of Jesus’ mother, Mary. That’s San Giuseppe in Italian! This holiday is on March 19th, which always falls during Lent. That means it’s vegetarian—save this one for the veg heads and vegans in your life!

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill soup recipe, either. St. Joseph’s Day soup is steeped in tradition and symbolism. The fava beans in this recipe represent luck. Breadcrumbs are also a staple in St. Joseph Day’s recipes, symbolizing sawdust since Joseph was a carpenter. As usual, I’ve added my own spin to the standard: My delicious crispy olive oil bread cubes. 

Canned or Dry: The Great Debate (Plus, How to Cook Dry Beans)

Though you could prepare this soup with canned beans, nothing compares to using dried beans for the best texture and flavor. When you use dried beans, the texture will be firmer and their flavor more distinct because they are not processed like canned beans. Dried beans are the traditional choice, by the way! 

St. Joseph’s Day Soup with Crispy Homemade Olive Oil Croutons

Tips and Troubleshooting for Cooking Dry Beans

Having trouble getting those beans to cook all the way? There are three primary reasons why dried beans sometimes don’t soften properly: They are too old, the water is too hard, or the pH of your water is too acidic.

Believe it or not, beans cooked in hard water will never soften properly. If your beans didn’t soften properly and you 1) know you have hard water or 2) don’t think they’re too old, use distilled water to try again. This would also help if the problem is the pH of the water, since most of us aren’t testing that at home!

Beans that are too old will retain a hard and grainy texture no matter how long you cook them. If you don't remember when you purchased the dried beans in your pantry, they are probably old. Just pick up a fresh bag of beans and you’ll be on your way!

How to Make Crispy Homemade Olive Oil Croutons

To represent the breadcrumbs, I toss good-quality Italian bread cubes in extra-virgin olive oil and bake them until lightly browned for a crunchy last-minute addition to the soup. I like to cut croutons from a whole loaf of bread so they are uniform in size—one inch cubes are perfect for this recipe.

When baking, remember that croutons can burn quickly. Keep an eye on them! I store unused toasted croutons in a resealable food storage bag. You can keep them at room temperature for about 2 days, but like any bread, they can start to mold. So if you’re not using them right away, freeze them in the bag then remove and thaw them as needed. Recrisp them on a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven before garnishing your soup!

How to Make Crispy Homemade Olive Oil Croutons
Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes.
How to Make Crispy Homemade Olive Oil Croutons
Place the cubes in a bowl and toss with the olive oil.
How to Make Crispy Homemade Olive Oil Croutons
Evenly spread the bread cubes out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. 
How to Make Crispy Homemade Olive Oil Croutons
Bake for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned at 400 degrees.

Parmesan rind adds a whole other dimension of flavor to homemade stocks and soups.

I also love to add Parmesan rind to the soup for extra flavor. The rind is a protective layer that develops on the outside of the cheese wheel as it ages. While it is edible, it becomes hard and tough to chew. But that rind is packed full of flavor and can be used to enrich sauces, stews, and soups.

Most grocery stores that have an imported cheese area will sell Parmesan rind for just this purpose. An alternative is to purchase a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano and remove the rind that forms on its perimeter.

How to Cut Up a Fennel Bulb

I love fennel. This bulbous vegetable has a refreshing but subtle licorice flavor, like anise. It looks like a white, layered bulb, sometimes with green, frilly dill-like stalks growing up from the bulb. Working with a fennel bulb is easy. Cut off the stem and frilly fronds (some stores will sell just the bulb and in that case, just chop off the dried end.). You can use the trimmings in homemade stock or discard them.

Next, cut the bulb in half. The inside of the bulb has a triangle-shaped hard area in the center. Using a chef’s knife, cut the hard part out. The rest of the fennel bulb can be diced for a soup or stew or shaved into thin strips using a mandoline slicer and served raw in a salad. For this recipe, you’ll be thinly slicing it, not dicing it!

How to Cut Up a Fennel Bulb
How to Cut Up a Fennel Bulb
St. Joseph’s Day Soup Recipe with Crispy Homemade Olive Oil Croutons

St. Joseph’s Day Soup Recipe with Crispy Homemade Olive Oil Croutons

Prep time: 40 MinCook time: 1 H & 45 MTotal time: 2 H & 25 M


For the Soup
  • 4 ounces dried garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 4 ounces dried cannellini beans
  • 4 ounces dried, peeled fava beans
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, fronds removed and thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 8 ounces red or pink lentils
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes with juice
  • ½ cup Chianti wine, optional
  • 8 to 10 cups vegetable stock, as needed
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4 ounces cleaned escarole, roughly cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Parmesan rind is optional but you’ll enjoy that extra flavor!
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
For the Crispy Homemade Olive Oil Croutons
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups bread cubes made from good-quality Italian bread


Soup Instructions
  1. Place the garbanzo beans, cannellini beans, and fava beans in a large bowl. Make sure there is plenty of room, and add water until the beans are covered by several inches. Refrigerate overnight.
  2. The next day, drain the beans and transfer them to a large stock pot. Add enough cold water to cover by about an inch. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Put the lid on the pot and simmer for approximately 40 minutes or until the beans are tender. Be careful not to overcook them. They should be tender but still hold their shape. Drain in a colander over your sink.
  3. In a large Dutch oven, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté for 1 minute, stirring often, until softened.
  4. Add the sliced fennel and carrots. Cook for another 5 to 6 minutes, stirring often. Add the reserved beans and dried lentils, the tomatoes with juice, wine (if using), and 8 cups of vegetable stock. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, adding more stock as needed.
  5. Add the dried oregano, thyme, escarole, and Parmesan rind, if using. Simmer for another 15 minutes. Remove the Parmesan rind and taste the soup. If you used the Parmesan rind, you may not need as much salt since the rind will provide a salty flavor. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Serve in large soup bowls and garnish with my crispy olive oil bread cubes.
Homemade Croutons Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. Place the cubes in a bowl and toss with the olive oil. I use between 2 and 3 tablespoons - just enough to evenly coat the cubes.
  2. Evenly spread the bread cubes out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. I like to give the bread cubes a stir about halfway through the baking process to make sure they are evenly browned on all sides.
  3. Serve immediately or cool the bread cubes and store at room temperature for up to 2 days in a plastic food storage bag.
Did you make this recipe?
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