4 slices crusty French bread, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
3 TBS olive oil, divided
sea salt and black pepper to taste
3 oz. pancetta, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 small onion, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 large Yukon gold potato, cubed
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 pounds of fresh fava beans in their pods (about 1 1/2 cups shelled)
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
3 sprigs mint, leaves roughly chopped
1/2 cup mascarpone
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Toss the bread cubes with 2 TBS of the olive oil and some sea salt, then spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden and crisp, stirring once halfway through. Remove the croutons from the oven, turn off the heat, and set aside.
Heat the remaining 1 TBS of olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the cubed pancetta and fry until browned and crispy all over, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently while cooking – pancetta gets a slow start but goes from almost done to burnt in just a minute or so, so keep an eye on it. When it’s done, use a slotted metal spoon to scoop the pancetta out and let the grease drip back into the pan. Place the pancetta in a bowl and set aside. Drain all but 1 TBS of the pancetta grease and discard. Return the pot to the stove and add the onion to the remaining pancetta grease. Saute until translucent, about 4-5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another 60 seconds. Add the potato and the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
Shuck the fava beans, then peel off the outer layer of skin and discard the skin. When the potato is almost tender, add the fava beans to the soup pot. Cook for 5 minutes longer, just to cook the beans through. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool slightly then ladle the soup into a blender. Always use caution when blending hot liquids, and only use a blender that is designed for it. If your blender is not suitable for hot liquids, allow the soup to cool first. Blend until smooth and thick, thinning with a little heavy cream if desired. Reheat the soup gently if needed, then pour into bowls. Top each bowl of soup with croutons, fried pancetta, chopped mint, and a spoonful of mascarpone. Serve immediately.